Missouri mining could benefit from Illinois fracking

Sunday, March 24, 2013
This image from the Illinois State Geological survey shows the area believed to hold concentrations of oil and natural gas in Southern Illinois. The area believed to contain the best deposits for extraction is highlighted in red.

A bill currently being negotiated in the Illinois House of Representatives would regulate large-scale hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking -- in the state, and the Missouri mining industry stands to gain from an increased need for silica sand, which is used in the process. Some environmentalists are pleased to have collaborated in creating the legislation, but others say both states will suffer.

Officials representing industrial and environmental groups have spent the last year drafting HB2615, which would create the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act. The law would control where high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing operations could be located and provide requirements for permits, insurance, construction and drilling, disclosures, water quality monitoring, investigation and enforcement, violations and penalties and administrative review. The act also would authorize the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to adopt rules as necessary to accomplish its purposes and establish a Mines and Minerals Regulatory Fund.

Should it pass, future large-scale horizontal drilling operations would be subject to some of the strictest regulations in the country. Illinois state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, organized the collaboration, which has been called a model for negotiations on the controversial drilling practice.

"It's always great when both sides can come together to recognize that safety is the goal, not ideological opposition," Steve Everley, director of Energy In Depth, a research and education group founded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said by email last week. "That is what's really so notable about Rep. Bradley's bill; it's a merciful casting aside of this silly notion that we cannot develop shale resources responsibly."

Banned in some states

Hydraulic fracturing is banned in several states, but is lauded for helping drive prices down by allowing drilling in unconventional areas. The Environmental Protection Agency website explains that "fractures are created by pumping large quantities of fluids at high pressure down a wellbore and into the target rock formation" stimulating the flow of natural gas and oil. The EPA is studying how the technique affects drinking water and lists several known risks to water supplies and air quality. A final draft report of the study is expected to be released for public comment and peer review in 2014.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center was part of a coalition of organizations that supported a moratorium on fracking in Illinois last year. The effort was not able to garner enough support to pass legislation. Allen Grosboll, co-legislative director and senior policy advocate at the policy center, said it was important for environmental interests to collaborate.

"They are going to move forward with fracking, whether we are at the table or not," Grosboll said. The policy center considered what would be in the best interest of the public and decided it would be irresponsible to refuse to participate in the process, he said.

The resulting legislation is "a very tough regulatory bill" with some "groundbreaking provisions," Grosboll said. For example, he said mining companies would have to test groundwater before, during and after operations and would become legally responsible for any future decline in water quality.

Still, some environmental groups continue to push for a moratorium. Liz Patula of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, a volunteer group seeking to ban fracking, said the collaboration that created the bill was forced. Illinois politicians were writing a bill, with or without the environmentalists, and larger environmental groups "decided to participate in ways they were specifically allowed to participate," she said.

SAFE was not invited, she said, despite representing the areas targeted for potential operations. Most of southern and southeastern Illinois has been identified as possible deposits of oil and natural gas formations, she said.

Aside from the environmental implications, Petula said the long-term economic result would be negative.

"Most of the high-paying jobs will go to out-of-state workers, and we will only get transient, part-time, low-paying, temporary, dangerous jobs," she said by email. "And, fracking will threaten the jobs which will actually sustain our region for generations, from local agriculture, tourism, wineries and other ways of using the land without harming it."

Everley said the bill would protect the environment and provide a path forward for industry that would benefit both states.

"We see consistently in other parts of the country that some of the biggest economic benefits actually accrue not only to land and mineral owners who negotiate leases, but also to local and regional businesses," he said.

Bob Bauer, engineering geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey, said fracking has been used in Illinois in vertical mining operations since 1947. There is no proof areas in the state being looked at as potential deposits actually will yield significant oil or gas resources, he said. Energy companies are buying leases in southeastern Illinois, but he said they are based on speculation.

Although not a abundant source of oil or natural gas, Missouri is a resource for silica sand -- or "frac sand" -- which is critical for the process of hydraulic fracturing. While this might represent a boon to industry, local environmental groups warn of potential drawbacks.

"As fracking expands, there will be increasing pressure to mine sand here in Missouri," John Hickey, director of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club, said by email. "Due to the extremely high volume of sand used in fracking, there is a danger that expanded sand mining here will cause environmental damage."

Hickey also expressed concerns about negative affects on river levels and the state's climate. Water use upriver on the Missouri River could contribute to lower levels on the Mississippi River in Southeast Missouri, and greenhouse gases released by the fracking process will contribute to climate change everywhere, he said.

Regional mines

Texas-based FTS International operates a silica sand mine in Perryville, Mo. Mississippi Sand LLC, based in Maryland Heights, Mo., produces silica sand in its mine near Festus, Mo. Unimin Corp. of Connecticut has mine locations throughout the country, including a silica sand operation in Pevely, Mo. U.S. Silica Holdings Inc., a Maryland-based company, has had a sand mine in Pacific, Mo., since the early 1900s.

According to a January 2013 Mineral Commodity Summary by the U.S. Geological Survey, Missouri is the sixth-largest producer of industrial sand and gravel. Illinois is the second-largest producer. The average price per ton in 2012 was $44.78. In 2008, it was $30.82.

Michael Lawson, spokesman for U.S. Silica, said the price of silica sand can be three to four times more than that of sand used in applications such as glassmaking. The specialized sand used in fracking has to pass 14 specifications set up by the American Petroleum Institute, he said.

Phone and email messages left with Rep. Bradley were not returned. Staff members on Friday said he had been forwarded Southeast Missourian press inquiries throughout last week, but he had not responded.



Pertinent address:

Marion, Ill.

Maryland Heights, Mo.

Festus, Mo.

Perryville, Mo.

Pacific, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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