Thursday, April 19, 2012

Illinois County Sees Fracking Land Rush

The county clerk’s office in the hundred twenty one year old Wayne County Courthouse at 300 West Main Street, Fairfield, Illinois, 270 miles south of Chicago, is flooded with laptop toting strangers speaking in whispers, and the pickup trucks of local farmers have been displaced from the courthouse parking lot by fancy sports cars and late model imports with out of state plates. Local farmers have been offered as much as $220,000.00 per year for leasing the mineral rights beneath their fields, without so much as a single ear of corn on their acreage being disturbed. Those laptop toting carpetbaggers have spent as much as $100 million in the southeastern Illinois area leasing the right to harvest natural gas from the rock strata 4,000 feet below the Great Plains using horizontal fracking technology.

Part of the Obama Administration’s “all of the above” energy independence strategy, shale gas recovery is expected to produce a million new manufacturing jobs in the U. S. by 2025, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers industrial products leader Robert McCutcheon. With the White House conceding by executive order that state governments are the primary regulators of fracking policies, Illinois legislators are attempting to pass regulatory legislation before the end of the current session – with luck before horizontal fracking begins on the leases already negotiated downstate.

Wayne County Clerk Glenda young says she’s “a little bit scared” of large scale fracking in the neighborhood, and Wayne County Press editorials have opposed the development of “babe busses” to shuttle gas workers from housing developments to strip clubs which have followed the birth of fracking operations in some North Dakota rural gas fields. On the other hand, a mineral rights lease producing a quarter million a year is difficult for corn farmers to turn down. Echoing the sentiments of many Wayne County residents who favor the employment and money fracking can bring to their town, Bud Vaught, manager of Mac’s Billiards in Fairfield sums up the situation thusly: “Until they screw up and do something wrong, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
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