051905br1732-smallrsWhen I saw the latest jobless numbers from January, I was disappointed that Southern Illinois counties continue to have higher unemployment than the state and national averages. Families are struggling as jobs are becoming harder and harder to find. This cannot continue. We need a new industry to really kick-start our economic engine. So when I first read the job projections that came out of a study conducted by Dr. David Loomis – a professor of economics at Illinois State University – on the economic impact of hydraulic fracturing, I was excited about the possible economic impact this industry could have on Southern Illinois.

According to Loomis, a minimum of approximately 1,000 jobs would be created or supported by the exploration of the New Albany Shale that sits below Southern Illinois. However, more than 47,000 jobs per year, or more than $9.5 billion of economic impact, could be created or supported if the study's highest scenario is realized. According to Loomis, it all depends on the natural gas reserve. 

Hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking”, has been the subject of serious negotiations between lawmakers, oil and gas industry representatives and their allies, and environmental groups over the past several weeks. Discussions have centered around a bill proposed by State Representative John Bradley, House Bill 2615, which would regulate hydraulic fracturing in the state.

For those unfamiliar, hydraulic fracturing uses a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to crack and hold open thick rock formations, releasing trapped oil and gas. Combined with horizontal drilling, it allows access to formerly out-of-reach deposits.

One of the major concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing is the potential effects it could have on the environment. Southern Illinois is blessed to have a geographical landscape that sets it apart from other areas of Illinois. We have state and national parks, lakes and natural scenery that attract thousands to Southern Illinois every year. Protecting our tourism industry and our region’s natural beauty is a major priority of mine.

The bill currently being discussed in the House has been called the strongest measure nationwide for regulating hydraulic fracturing. There are many strong protections and regulations that are included in House Bill 2615. One of the most important measures in the bill requires baseline water testing before fracking starts and continual tests throughout. Monitoring is extremely important to ensure that we are not harming our water systems. Another important regulation in the bill requires companies to disclose to state officials the concentrations and names of chemicals they will use. By disclosing this information, officials can make sure the chemicals are considered safe for the environment and for workers handling them.

As it stands, I believe House Bill 2615 contains the necessary environmental regulations and protections to ensure we are not harming one of most precious resources. The hydraulic fracturing industry could add thousands of jobs and provide a needed boost to our economy here in Southern Illinois.  Along with the expanding coal industry, Southern Illinois has the potential to once again be among the energy production leaders in the Midwest. For that reason, I plan to support House Bill 2615. 

Category: A Weekly Update on Issues with Senator Forby

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