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The Antics of the Illinois Legislature

Fracking “Shock Doctrine” Unveiled

by STEVE HORN

The shale gas industry has performed the “shock doctrine” at the 11th hour of the 2013 Illinois State Legislature’s debate over hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drllling process through which oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins nationwide.

This year, both the Illinois House and Senate are set to adjourn for the year on May 31 and the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act will likely receive a full floor vote by adjournment. The regulatory bill has 59 House co-sponsors and eight Senate co-sponsorsDemocratic Party Gov. Pat Quinn said he will sign the bill when it arrives on his desk.

With the deadline looming rapidly, anti-fracking activists – or “fracktivists” – have been protestingsitting intestifying in committee hearings and committing acts of non-violent civil disobedience daily at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

Two days before that deadline, the Associated Press (AP) reported that records from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) indicate fracking already has begun in Illinois’ New Albany Shale Basin.

“Carmi, Ill.-based Campbell Energy LLC submitted a well-completion report last year to the [DNR] voluntarily disclosing that it used 640,000 gallons of water [fracking] a well in White County,” AP reports. AP also explained the report was first obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The last-minute announcement paves the way for a “buzzer beater” public relations effort by the industry to ram through a regulatory bill deemed the “most comprehensive fracking legislation in the nation” by its proponents and a “worst case scenario” by its detractors. The bill was predominatly written by Illinois Oil and Gas Association (IOGA), working alongside two major environmental groups: the Illinois Sierra Club and NRDC.

NRDC told DeSmogBlog it caught wind of the Campbell Energy well-completion report not from the industry itself at the negotiating table, but through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The FOIA request also showed another company has fracked a well: Strata-X Energy Ltd.

Among other things, the bill allows fracking to take place within 1,500 feet of groundwater sources and 500 feet of schools, houses, hospitals, nursing homes, and places of worship; and within 300 feet of rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs. Necessary context: the horizontal drilling portion of the fracking process extends between 5,000-7,500 feet.

“We need to acknowledge that fracking is legal today in Illinois, and for all we know, may already be occurring as you read this,“ Sierra Club Illinois‘ Director Jack Darin wrote ambiguously in a Feb. 2013 Huffington Post piece.

Darin’s ominous hypothetical scenario proved true, begging the question: did the industry hide this from those it was at the negotiating table with until the last minute?

Darin answered that question in an email exchange, writing, “We found out about this not from the industry, but from a review of state data.”

Fracking Well Owned by IOGA Board Member, Connected to Lake Michigan Oil Drilling

Campbell Energy LLC’s co-founder Jakob Campbell is on the Board of Directors of IOGA. In other words, IOGA – the industry lobbying force that is pushing for and helped write the Illinois fracking regulatory bill – has a Board Member using the well-completion report as a trojan horse, of sorts.

Ann Alexander, Senior Attorney in NRDC’s Chicago Office, former Environmental Counsel to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and one of the environmental representatives at the negotiating table for the regulatory bill told DeSmogBlog that industry representatives at the table included someone from a California fracking company, an Illinois fracking company, IOGA VP Brad Richards, and a representative from the IL Chamber of Commerce.

“These are not people who would necessarily know what Campbell was doing. I have absolutely no reason to believe IOGA knew about it and I honestly doubt that they did,” she said. “I look at it and say ‘How would they know?’ I mean, this was a slip of paper they submitted to DNR. Maybe IOGA has some data and they are tracking it like that. If they are, I have never heard about it and I have no reason to believe they have it.”

Alexander later joked that IOGA may have conned those at the negotiating table about Campbell, though she didn’t think that was the case.

“They certainly did a good imitation for people who apparently had no idea and I say that jokingly because I honestly don’t think anybody in that room knew what was going on when we first started the conversation,” she continued. “I mean, IOGA is there to promote its interests, but I have no reason to believe IOGA is collecting this data – this voluntary data – that some companies are submitting to DNR. There is no reason why the industry would have wanted to hide the ball on this.”

Could IOGA’s VP really not have known that one of his own Board members had performed a well completion? Seems highly unlikely and more along the lines of an imitation of ignorance.

IOGA’s sleight of hand enables proponents of the weak legislation to argue that, because fracking is already happening, the public should accept drilling with essentially toothless regulations - which will be difficult to enforce given a seriously understaffed and under-funded DNR - or get continued drilling with absolutely no regulations. There is no third option, according to this odd narrative.

An alternative path does exist, though, in the form of a moratorium bill. That bill has galvanized the support of grassroots activist groups22 House co-sponsors and nine Senate co-sponsors.

Campbell also co-founded Camata Energy LLC with Florencio Mata. Mata was the vice president of exploration of Federated Natural Resources when it was running geological and seismic tests to do offshore drilling in Lake Michigan in the mid-1980s.

Offshore drilling in Lake Michigan has been a point of contention for decades and a moratorium is still on the books.

“Activists and a growing band of politicians are alarmed by the specter of surface leaks from wellheads that could taint drinking water, harm public health and affect wildlife,” explained a 2001 article published in The Detroit News about prospective drilling in Lake Michigan, a description that today rings equally true for fracking.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) supports drilling in Lake Michigan, as do numerous other public officials.

“The bottom line is we are an oil-based economy,” he said in 2010 when asked about drilling in the Great Lakes. “There’s nothing we’re gonna do to get off of that for many, many years. I think we have to be realistic and recognize that fact and, you know, I, I think we have to, get the oil where it is, but we have to do it where it is.”

Illinois Fracktivists React

Grassroots activists in Illinois interviewed by DeSmogBlog find the revelation about the well-completion report unsavory and the timing of it suspect.

“The timing of the announcement of the well-completion report is awfully suspicious,” remarked Tabitha Tripp, a concerned citizen from Southern Illinois. “A moratorium is needed to halt permits, study the science, look at the health care studies before we have a disaster we can’t clean up.

Don Carlson, Executive Director of Illinois People’s Action, put it more bluntly.

“With the apparent relationship between the board member of the IOGA being the same company engaged in the fracking well-completion, the oil and gas industry has manufactured a policy-making crisis they not only have the solution to, but from which they’ll profit greatly,” Carlson told DeSmogBlog. ”This brazen manipulation of environmental policy-making should make legislators as angry as it makes grassroots citizens. Bullies who throw rocks should not be rewarded with window insurance.”

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog.