Illinois' first fracking permit returned by Kansas company

Markets Associated Press

The first company to obtain a permit for fracking in Illinois announced Friday it won't use it, citing market conditions and the state's "burdensome and costly" regulations.

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Wichita, Kansas-based Woolsey Companies Inc. was given permission in September by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to drill near the southeast Illinois community of Enfield.

"The process we have gone through to receive a permit was burdensome, time consuming and costly due to the current rules and regulations of the state of Illinois, and it appears that this process would continue for future permit applications," Woolsey vice president Mark Sooter said in a statement.

Fracking relies on high pressure chemical and water injections to release oil and gas from deep-rock formation.

The Illinois Legislature in 2013 passed a law regulating fracking. At the time, the law was considered one of the most stringent in the nation. But oil prices soon dropped, and companies that secured leases to frack put their plans on hold.

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Ed Cross said a new permit would be required if Woolsey decided to revive the Illinois wells.

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"They'd have to start the whole process over," said Cross.

Two other energy development companies registered for hydraulic fracturing in Illinois, though neither applied for a permit.

Opponents of fracking say they consider Woolsey's decision not to drill in Illinois a victory for their side.

Jessica Fujan of Food and Water Watch told the State Journal-Register in Springfield that Woolsey's decision reflected growing public awareness of fracking's dangers.

"We've learned a lot since Illinois passed this law," said Fujan, noting an Illinois Senate subcommittee on energy plans to hold a hearing on fracking rules later this month. "We're going to pursue further restrictions on fracking and an outright ban, if possible."

Critics of fracking express concern about its impact on the environment and public health from spills and leaks. Others say around-the-clock noise, lights and fumes from drilling rigs make their homes unlivable.

The industry says fracking is safe and that drilling companies take steps to minimize the disturbances.