ST. LOUIS – The oil and gas drilling technique known as “fracking,” once trumpeted as a job-creating boon for southern Illinois, is off to a feeble start in the state as slumping oil prices and the rigors of Illinois’ new regulations have energy interests cautiously waiting on the sidelines.
Two months after a legislative panel approved long-awaited rules for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said only Denver-based Strata-X has registered with the state to pursue such drilling. No one has applied for a permit yet.
The lack of immediate movement contrasts sharply with a land rush in recent years in southern Illinois, where energy interests spent millions snapping up oil and mineral leases spanning hundreds of thousands of acres in anticipation of a shot at the area’s oil and natural gas deposits. Fracking proponents were banking on the industry producing tens of thousands of jobs in a region that long has had some of the state’s highest jobless rates.
But a downdraft on oil prices has left investors fidgety. Compounding matters is the need to sort through the state’s new regulations – which the industry and environmental groups helped negotiate – as well as threats of lawsuits by Illinois fracking foes hoping to block or at least modify the drilling practice, which they consider risky to humans and the environment.