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Fracking question sparks huge Johnson County turnout

Thursday, Mar 20, 2014

* Johnson County voters in deep southern Illinois were faced with a non-binding referendum this week

Shall the people’s right to local self government be asserted by Johnson County to ban corporate fracking as a violation of their rights to health and safety?

* Some background

More than 1,000 signatures, twice the required number, were collected on the petition, rural Vienna resident Richard Craig said at a news conference held in front of the county clerk’s office in Vienna Thursday.

The petition effort took place after Johnson County commissioners declined to vote on placing the question on the ballot, he said.

“We felt like the people in the county should have a voice in what’s going on around them,” Craig said. […]

At last count, almost 195 leases have been signed in the county.

* Hopes were high

McMichael thinks the ballot initiative has a solid chance of passing, especially given the results of an October poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University which found 20 percent of voters undecided on the issue, with the rest evenly divided.

The poll, which surveyed 403 voters in 18 counties, including Johnson, found native southern Illinoisans were more supportive of fracking than non-natives, and women were more opposed than men.

The poll also found very strong support for the region’s coal industry, meaning that even many people who support fossil fuel extraction in general have reservations about fracking.

“That was much stronger support (for limiting fracking) than a lot of people had anticipated – we feel very good about what’s going on,” McMichael said.

* Southern Illinoisans Against Fracking Our Environment gathered the signatures, and the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund assisted in the campaign. Proponents freely admitted that the referendum was dividing the county

Phyllis Oliver, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Cypress, Ill., on Monday said the fracking debate in Johnson County is like the never-ending story that keeps getting uglier.

“I never thought Johnson County would get so … People get so angry with each other,” she said. […]

Oliver said she would not be surprised either way the majority votes today, and the argument that has turned neighbors against neighbors “will be interesting.”

“If they vote ‘no,’ we’re not going to go away,” she said.

* And it sure was divisive

The fracking campaign bruised egos and drove a rift in this rural county of about 12,000 people. The Goreville Gazette and The Vienna Times both refused to run advertisements in support of the fracking ban. That lead the editor of the Goreville paper to quit in protest.

* The Pennsylvania group wasn’t the only outside interest involved. Will Reynolds

The oil industry is trying to buy democracy in Johnson county. Residents have the chance in Tuesday’s election to decide they want control over their own future without more division and destruction by outside oil interests.

* Election day turnout was a very high 49 percent - more than double just about everywhere else in Illinois. And the anti-fracking referendum proponents lost big

With all 16 precincts and absentee ballots counted, the countywide referendum failed by a vote of 2,223 against to 1,602 for the measure, or 58 percent to 42 percent, respectively.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Walker - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:21 pm:

    Dollars over health and safety every time.

  2. - Old Shepherd - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:23 pm:

    This was fascinating to watch, mainly because Johnson County is a very conservative, solid Republican county. Of all the counties in Southern Illinois, it was very surprising to me that this became the battleground.

  3. - Commander Norton - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:24 pm:

    I wonder whether if it would have had more support if it had been phrased less as a referendum on fracking itself and more as a local control measure (since it’s nonbinding, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway). Something like, “Should Johnson County have a right to decide whether or not to ban [or allow] fracking in the county?” If that passed, it would at least have given fracking opponents a starting point instead of nothing, which is what they have now with such a solid drubbing.

  4. - Jeff Trigg - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:29 pm:

    Ban corporate fracking? So, non-profit fracking would be ok? Silly leftist extremists.

  5. - Anonymous - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:31 pm:

    ==Dollars over health and safety every time. ==

    More like some outside interest groups thinking they could tell property owners they knew what was best for them. Yeah, that usually goes over about as well as these results show.

  6. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:34 pm:

    It’s an important question. I’m glad people are taking it seriously.

  7. - Downstate - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:38 pm:

    In addition to the vote, this week also marked the 65th anniversary of the first fracking activity in the United States.

    Quick facts

    Fracking has been used on more than 1 million wells worldwide.

    15 countries of Europe already allow fracking

    In Tarrant County Texas, in 2011, more than 2.8 billioin gallons of water were used for fracking. More than 6.8 billion gallons of water were used for ……………watering lawns.

  8. - wordslinger - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:42 pm:

    Yeah, it’s not an easy question at all. They sure could use the money down there, but you can’t live without groundwater.

    Jeff Trigg, your usual talking point drive-by adds as much knowledge and insight as usual.

  9. - Jeff Trigg - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:56 pm:

    There was no need to call it “corporate” fracking. That was silly, except maybe for the simple-minded who automatically reject others’ knowledge or insight. Calling it corporate fracking confuses the real issue at hand with anti-business, socialist propaganda. They should have stuck to the real issue instead of being childish, just like you wordslinger.

  10. - Aldyth - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 2:00 pm:

    Socialist? Really? You might want to study up and find out what socialism really is, Jeff Trigg. Having a volunteer fire department can be considered socialism, when you choose to skew the definition. I’ll bet there are a lot of volunteer fire fighters in southern Illinois.

  11. - Secret Square - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 2:21 pm:

    I thought the statute already gave local governments authority to decide whether or not to allow fracking. If that is the case, having a referendum vote purely on local control would have been redundant and meaningless.

  12. - W - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 2:22 pm:

    “More like some outside interest groups thinking they could tell property owners they knew what was best for them.”

    Like a state law that forces people to allow fracking under their land if 51% of the neighbors sign away their mineral rights? A lot of people in Johnson county are angry at Chicago lawmakers forcing them to allow fracking on their property.

    The result shows fracking is strongly divisive even in a conservative southern Illinois county, way beyond the usual tree-hugger crowd.

  13. - W - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 2:25 pm:

    “I thought the statute already gave local governments authority to decide whether or not to allow fracking.”

    The law only allows municipalities to ban fracking. The Chicago greens who negotiated the bill were proud of themselves for that. But it’s basically meaningless in places like Johnson county because fracking will happen in unincorporated rural areas.

  14. - 1776 - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 2:25 pm:

    People recognize that fracking can create jobs and economic opportunity in a safe manner. This was an overwhelming win given that the out of state environmentalists worked the community for a year.

  15. - Anonymous - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 3:39 pm:

    I have a ton of family down there & we visit several times a year. They need fracking money badly down there, its pretty much Appalacia.

  16. - dupage dan - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 3:58 pm:

    === - Walker - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 1:21 pm:

    Dollars over health and safety every time ===

    Only if you believe that health and safety are truly at risk. Adults in Johnson County decided in overwhelming fashion. What do you say to the 58% who voted against the referendum? That they are not smart enough to make an intelligent decision because they don’t agree with you?

  17. - Hans Sanity - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 4:43 pm:

    See how long the clamor for local control lasts when a local water supply is tainted.

  18. - wordslinger - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 6:15 pm:

    No one should adopt the national blabbermouth talking points here and think they’re advancing the ball.

    There is great money to be made in fracking, in an area that could use it. There is also great risk to the groundwater, and groundwater is the ball game.

    I have no problem with going slow. I have great doubts that the emasculated DNR can adequately regulate. But I want the folks down there to get the gravy when it’s hot.

    Texas, believe it or not, heavily regulates extraction in regards to environmental safety. They have for more than 100 years. The state tells you where you can drill, how you do it, and how much you can take out.

    If Illinois is going to go large in this business, we have to let those who are going to make the money cowboy up and pay to make sure they don’t poison the land and water.

  19. - Fed up - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 6:45 pm:


    Good points, Illinois does need the money but, it can’t come at the price of safe ground water. Smart regulation is needed. I’m not sure Illinois is up to that task.

  20. - That guy - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 7:36 pm:

    Fanning the flames of hysteria has been a cash cow for environmentalists seeking donations. A perceived crisis can be quite profitable. Follow the money works on both sides of the issue. At least the oil companies intentions are fairly transparent.

  21. - So. Illinois Guy - Thursday, Mar 20, 14 @ 9:20 pm:

    The main reason why the enviros used Johnson County for their attempt is that there is very little potential for “fracking” in that county and there is no past history of oil production. With no “oil culture” background, it is easier to scare people.

    The “Community Bill of Rights” that they were trying to poke down Johnson County’s throat has great potential as a tool to use over a wider portion of Southern Illinois. This was what the proponents were really up to.

    In the end, the Johnson County folks saw the proponent for what they really are….outsiders who were attempting to exploit the county for their own sinister purposes. Sound judgment prevailed absolutely.

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