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Anti-Fracking Activists Crash Democrat Breakfast

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  Environmental activists hoping to curb hydraulic fracturing in Illinois crashed a breakfast held for Democratic party organizers in Springfield Wednesday. They want to stop natural gas extraction in the state before it starts.

"Drought! Pollution! Earthquake! Fracking is a big mistake!"

One-hundred or so ralliers chanted outside the Democratic breakfast, armed with signs and a larger-than-life puppet of Governor Pat Quinn. The activists say Quinn, and other lawmakers who helped pass a law allowing hydraulic fracturing, are "puppets" of the oil and gas industry.

The natural gas extraction process, often called fracking, uses highly pressurized water and chemicals to draw fuel from oil shale, deep underground.

But reports of earthquakes and polluted water and air where drilling has taken place have opponents worried about the practice in Illinois. Lora Chamberlain, with Frack-Free Illinois, says fracking is too risky to try here.

"The reps and senators and the governor have not done their homework," she said. "They don't understand the dangers of fracking that have been proven across the country."

But advocates of fracking refute those claims, saying natural disasters like earthquakes haven't been unequivocally linked to fracking. Plus, they say, the benefits outweigh the consequences — benefits like less reliance on coal, and potentially thousands of new jobs for Southern Illinois, a sure boon to suffering local economies.

Since fracking became law in the Spring of 2013, the Quinn administration has been drafting rules for the practice. Chamberlain says her group filed Freedom of Information Act requests, which revealed a state agency had consulted with industry experts on the rules.

"Taxpayers paid $35,000 to let the industry write their own rules," she said.

But advocates of fracking say there's nothing sinister about that, and complain the agency is taking too long to draft the rules. Seth Whitehead, with pro-fracking group Energy In Depth, says Southern Illinois needs fracking to lift up their underemployed.

"The unemployment figures, as bad as they are, don't even really tell the full story."

The state has until mid-November to finalize rules.

Hannah covers state government and politics for Capitol News Illinois. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at WILL-AM/FM, Law360, Capitol Fax and The Daily Line before returning to NPR Illinois in 2020 and moving on to CNI in 2023.
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