Fracking is causing a battle outside of southern Illinois. The dispute is taking place in the northern Illinois town of Ottawa, next to one of the state’s parks.
The LaSalle County Board voted to allow Mississippi Sand LLC to mine for sand on farmland near the east gates of Starved Rock State Park. The sand found around the Illinois River is ideal for the hydraulic fracturing process, commonly referred to as fracking. The method involves pumping water and chemicals into rock to create cracks that release oil and natural gas. Sand is mixed in with the water to help prop open the cracks while the fuels are extracted.
“It’s that perfect small fine-grained crystal sand that’s ideal as propellant,” says Tess Wendel, a clean water organizer for the Illinois Sierra Club.
Wendel is working with others in the area to try to block the creation of the mine. The operation also needs permits from the state. At press time, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was considering a proposal from Mississippi Sand regarding the first 10 years of the project.
Opponents say the mine would destroy local wetlands by filling them with silt. Wendel says that in the end, the mining area would leave a large pit that the company says would become a recreational lake. “It’s really just not a substitute for the natural wetlands that are already there. They’ll just leave the hole in the ground, and it’s going to fill up with water,” she says.
Tony Giordano, president of Mississippi Sand, says the mine would bring jobs and an estimated $9 million in economic stimulus to the area. “We don’t believe in any way that our utilization of our proposed parcel will negatively impact anybody within the park,” he told WBEZ Chicago.
Wendel says the mining operations could hurt the local tourism economy. “Most of the money [the mine generates] is not going to be staying in the county, unlike the money that’s coming from a state park. I don’t think folks are going to want to camp if they are waking up to blasting at eight in the morning instead of the birds chirping,” she says.
“My concerns are twofold: for my health and well-being and my property value,” says Susan Calhoun, who lives about half a mile from the proposed mine site. “Our mailbox is farther away from our house than that mine would be from our front door.”
Susan and her husband, Merlin Calhoun, own the Starved Rock Honey Co. and are working to expand their beekeeping operation and honey production. “I don’t know what kind of effect something like this so close is going to have on my business.”
She said they considered taking a buyout from the mine and moving, but they don’t want to leave the home where they plan to retire. “Frankly, I don’t want a sand mine owning the house my mother and father built.”
Illinois Issues, May 2012