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Johnson County Fracking Ban Referendum (March 2014)

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A Johnson County Fracking Ban Referendum was on the March 18, 2014 election ballot for voters in the County of Johnson, Illinois, where it was defeated.

This measure sought to ban the process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," used in oil and gas drilling. During this process, water and sand, mixed with certain chemicals, are pumped into oil wells to break up shale rock and allow the trapped oil and natural gas to be released.[1]

The Johnson County Fracking Ban Referendum was advisory; if it had been approved by voters, it would not have had a binding legal impact. The intent of those who collected signatures to place the question on the ballot was to gauge voter opinion on the issue.[1]

The measure was placed on the ballot by opponents of fracking; these individuals and groups believed that the chemicals used in fracking can be harmful to human health. They also believed that fracking can harm the environment. Defenders of fracking said that the potential risks and harms of fracking can be and have been successfully managed and that because of this, fracking is safe and does not harm health or the environment.

As of the 2010 census, Johnson County had a population of 12,582.

See Fracking in Illinois for more information on fracking in the state.

Aftermath

Opponents of the measure, including Count Commissioner Ernie Henshaw, have called this measure a strong indication that the people of Johnson County are in favor of fracking and the jobs generated by the oil and gas industry. But proponents have claimed that the results of the referendum are only the effect of manipulation of media. They claim that the oil and gas companies opposing the measure were able to send out thousands of dollars worth of mailers and ads to defeat the measure, while proponents experienced a total media blackout, with news papers rejecting their ads.[2]

Annette McMichael of SAFE, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, said, “I know it sounds like spin but it means about 42 percent of the voters don’t want fracking in Johnson County. I’m convinced if not for the media blackout, we would have been well over 50 percent.” Speaking of the media black out, McMichael said, "That hurt us tremendously. The opposition was in the newspaper but we weren’t given that opportunity."[2]

Johnson County Commissioner Ernie Henshaw, who opposed the referendum, said, "Historically, if a referendum gets over 50 percent of the vote, it’s a good barometer of what people think. I believe the vote reflected the will of the people."[2]

Election results

Johnson County Fracking Measure
ResultVotesPercentage
Defeatedd No2,22358.12%
Yes 1,602 41.88%
Election results from Johnson County Election Department.

Voter turnout

There were 7,954 registered voters in Johnson County for this election. Of these, 3,825 actually voted on this question, yielding a voter turnout of a little over 48 percent, which was as much as double the turn out in the rest of Illinois.[3][4]

Reactions

County Commissioner Ernie Henshaw said, "There was a lot at stake with this proposition. Had it passed, it would have threatened jobs, diminished farming, and tied our county into expensive legal knots."[3]

Text of measure

Ballot question

The referendum question voters saw on their ballot was:

This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

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?[1]

Support

Supporters

A committee of residents assisted by the group Southern Illinoisans Against Fracking Our Environment were responsible for collecting the signatures to get the proposed measure on the ballot.[5] The Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) also supported the referendum effort.[6]

Arguments in favor

SAFEBanner2.jpg

Supporters argued that a "yes" on the referendum was essential to prevent critically dangerous environmental and economic effects of drilling.[7]

Opponents of the fracking ban maintained that the Pennsylvania-based CELDF was an outside group pushing policy in an area where they do not have a long-term stake in the outcome. Natalie Long, a downstate Illinois resident who works for the Pennsylvania-based CELDF, contested this view, which was expressed by Council Commissioner Ernie Henshaw, that the CELDF had a larger anti-corporate and anti-fossil fuel agenda and was using Johnson County as a "test case." She said, “The goal of our group is to protect rights wherever they are being violated. The goal before us whether we are in the southeast, northwest, wherever is to protect the role of citizens putting their foot down and saying this industry is not welcome here.”[7]

Opposition

Johnson County Vote No on Fracking Ban.PNG

Opponents

On February 19, 2014, the Johnson County Commission announced the formation of a coalition opposing the fracking ban measure. This coalition was called Citizens Opposed to Johnson County Fracking Proposition.[8][9]

Arguments against

The main arguments opponents made as they asked residents to vote "no" were:

  • The ban would end in an expensive lawsuit where such a ban would ultimately be overturned. Ernie Henshaw, a county commissioner, said, “I don’t think we have the legal authority to override the state of Illinois. I think we’re going to end up in a lawsuit. They may get an injunction while this lawsuit is going on, but I think we’re in an undefendable position.”[7] He also said, "Johnson County can't ban fracking because there's state law in place. Johnson County can not ban fracking and when we ban fracking, we open ourselves to lawsuits not only from energy companies, but we also open ourselves to lawsuits from citizens."[8]
  • If oil and gas extraction is allowed in the county, it could result in an essential economic stimulus for the residents.
  • Statewide regulations on fracking are enough to protect the environment.[7]
  • If fracking was banned, it would put some companies out of business. Mitch Garrent, a member of the Citizens Opposed to Johnson County Fracking Proposition and president of Shawnee Professional Services, an engineering consulting firm, said his company's future would be endangered if the measure passed.[9]
  • County Commissioner Ernie Henshaw also argued that the motivation behind the ballot initiative was not to protect Johnson County residents but instead was part of a broader effort on the part of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund against corporations and fossil fuel companies. He said, "I don’t want to be a test case for this group, and I think that’s what they’re looking for."[7]

The County Commission

County Commissioner Ernie Henshaw was instrumental in the formation of the coalition called Citizens Against Johnson County Fracking Proposition that was supported by several county commissioners. Henshaw said, "We decided we needed to form a committee and start trying get our opinions heard."[10] Some Johnson County residents who supported the referendum measure expressed concern over the formation of a coalition opposed the fracking ban by the county commission, believing they had overstepped their role as public officials. Annette McMichael said, "I don't think that a county commissioner has any right to form a coalition of any kind to affect a ballot initiative."[8]

Background

Map of oil and gas wells in Johnson County, IL
See also: Fracking in Illinois

This referendum was the first local attempt in Illinois to bring about a ban on hydraulic fracturing. In 2013, the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act was passed, which has been called the strictest fracking regulation in the nation.[11] Several supporters of the proposed ban in Johnson County believed that the state's regulations were too lenient and they, therefore, wanted the county to impose a higher degree of regulation; according to one spokesperson for a ban on fracking: "People recognized that (the state regulations were) not an act representative of the rule of the people in many parts of the state. The issue we’re looking at is not just fracking or no fracking, it’s a rights issue. Who decides who gets fracked? The people themselves who live with the consequences or somebody else who’s making that decision for them?"[7]

Oil and natural gas drilling began in Illinois in 1853. From 1940-1950, the Illinois Basin -- a fossil fuels repository stretching from southern Illinois to northwest Kentucky and southwest Indiana -- was the third largest oil producing basin in the United States. Production fell sharply after World War II. However, in recent years, the development of new drilling technologies -- horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing -- have now made it economically feasible to drill into the previously untapped New Albany Shale formation. The New Albany Shale formation is 350 million years old. It is thought to contain 300 billion barrels of oil.[12]

All oil and gas drilling in Illinois is regulated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The IDNR oversees the implementation of fracking regulation in the state under the Illinois' Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act with assistance from the Illinois State Geological Survey, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, State Fire Marshal and Illinois State Water Survey.[13] The DNR was, at the time of this measure, reviewing comments on proposed new rules regarding every part of the fracking process, from permitting well drilling to restoration.[14] The map to the right, from the Illinois State Geological Survey, shows the location of current oil and gas wells in Johnson County.[15]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in Illinois

Activists, assisted by the group Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE), in Johnson County, Illinois, submitted exactly 1,001 signatures to the county clerk's office on December 12, 2013. The group needed only 374 of these signatures to be valid to qualify their measure for the ballot. They tried first to encourage the county commissioners to vote to refer a ballot measure banning fracking to the ballot in 2014. But, instead of approving a referendum themselves, the county commissioners encouraged the group to pursue a signature petition drive to put the measure before voters through the initiative power.[16][1]

Related measures

Voting on Fracking
Frackingsite2.jpg
Ballot Measures
By state
By year
Not on ballot
See also: Notable 2014 local measures

Local measures

Defeatedd Johnson County Fracking Ban Referendum (March 2014)

Statewide measures

Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot Michigan Fracking Ban Initiative (2014)

See also

External links

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Suggest a link

Additional reading

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 The Southern Illinoisan, "Local control being petitioned: No fracking referendum in Johnson County, yet," November 5, 2031
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Southern Illinoisan, "Both sides of fracking debate plan next move," March 30, 2014
  3. 3.0 3.1 Southeast Missourian, "Illinois county votes against curbs on fracking," March 19, 2014
  4. Capitol Fax, "Fracking question sparks huge Johnson County turnout," March 20, 2014
  5. Southern Illinoisans Against Fracking Our Environment (SAFE) website, accessed January 17, 2014
  6. CELDF website, accessed January 17, 2014
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Midwest Energy News, "Rural county to take Illinois fracking debate to the ballot box," January 16, 2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 wsiltv.com, "Johnson County Commissioners Oppose Fracking Proposition," February 19, 2014
  9. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Continues
  10. The Southern Illinoisan, "Johnson County fracking fight continues," February 20, 2014
  11. "ThinkProgress," "Illinois Adopts Nation's Strictest Fracking Regulations," June 19, 2013, accessed March 6, 2014
  12. "Free Republic," "The New Albany Shale" October 24, 2013, accessed February 27, 2014
  13. "Illinois Department of Natural Resources," "Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act," accessed March 3, 2014
  14. "Department of Natural Resources," "Illinois Register," accessed March 3, 2014
  15. "Illinois State Geological Survey," "Illinois Oil & Gas Resources," accessed March 3, 2014
  16. 12 KFVS, "First fracking referendum in Illinois," December 12, 2013