Straight from the Well

I’ve been thinking a lot about water lately — how I take it for granted, how I just assume there will always be enough of it, and how it never occurs to me that the water coming out of my faucet could be anything but clean.

Illinois has been experiencing a pretty severe drought. Our water was turned off at home during the process of replacing the pipes under our street. But what really made me pause this summer was a statement made by a woman at one of our recent environmental coalition meetings: “I have a well. There’s no water treatment plant separating the source of my water from my sink. Whatever comes up from my well is what my family drinks. That’s why I’m here—to protect my water.”

She’s referring to high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking)—or rather, the potential harms that can come from this process. Pumping millions of gallons of water, combined with a sand and chemical mixture, at high pressure down a well to create fissures in the shale rock, allowing natural gas (and large portions of that water mixture) to come back up out of the well, has contaminated countless water wells across the country. Residents, community groups, and environmentalists are worried about the amount of water used, the potential for contamination of our aquifers and wells, and the risks involved with the improper disposal of wastewater.

We’ve focused on the issue of fracking in previous articles of the Common Good News. Last year, passing fracking regulations was the main legislative priority for our Environmental Lobby Day. Despite our good efforts, we weren’t able to get the job done before spring session ended. During session, a bill (SB 3280) passed out of the Senate with provisions that provided for the disclosure of chemicals, basic well-casing standards, and waste water disposal standards.

When the bill moved over to the House, we realized there was an opportunity to push for even stronger regulations — to ensure that we were protecting our natural resources from the beginning of the process to the end. Despite weeks of negotiations, and countless phone calls, emails, and grassroots work from constituents, as well as a full force effort in Springfield, we were not able to convince the House to pass the bill.

In the final hours of the spring legislative session, an amendment was added to SB3280 that would put in place a two-year moratorium on fracking in Illinois and create a task force to explore and recommend regulations for the industry. This moratorium would ensure that no high-volume fracking takes place before regulations are instituted. The moratorium passed out of the Environmental Health Committee and now awaits a vote by the full House.

So, where does that leave us? We have landowners in Illinois signing leases with natural gas companies, and we have no regulations to protect Illinois’ drinking water. PCG and our partners across the state feel that the moratorium is the best way to ensure that we adequately protect our natural resources. We are working together to meet with legislators, gather co-sponsors, and build support to pass the amended bill as soon as possible.

I hope you’ll join us in this effort. This is most certainly a bill where legislators will want to hear from their constituents. We’ve put together an email that you can send to your legislators—asking them to support a moratorium by co-sponsoring the legislation. By all means add your own words and your own voice. You can also call your legislator’s district office. However you contact your representatives, the important thing is to let them know that you don’t want high-volume fracking in Illinois unless and until we have protective regulations in place. Take a look at the fact sheet for more information.

Whether it’s because you’re concerned about how much water is used in this process, or where all that waste water will be disposed, or because you want to make sure that families who get their water right from a well can remain confident that it’s clean and safe to drink, I hope you’ll support a moratorium and the need for strong regulations.

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