Illinois regulators have approved the state's first hydraulic fracturing permit more than four years after the controversial oil-drilling practice was allowed.
The state Department of Natural Resources posted notice of approval online of an application from Woolsey Companies Inc. of Wichita, Kan. The energy development company was the first to apply for a permit under the state law enacted in June 2013. Woolsey plans to drill the first well near Enfield, in White County. [That's about 120 miles southeast of St. Louis, about 30 miles from Indiana border.]
"The permit covers the construction, completion, operating, monitoring and reporting requirements for this well," the department stated in the 14-page approval notice.
Mark Sooter, Woolsey's vice president of business development, said Friday the company expects to complete the first well by the end of the year, though he said production might not begin until early 2018. He added that Woolsey plans only one well for now.
"At this point, we'll drill only the well we got the permit for," said Sooter. "We'll study those results and evaluate additional wells."
Hydraulic fracturing relies on high-pressure chemicals and water to release oil and gas from deep-earth shale formations. Opponents who consider the practice a major threat to the environment and public health condemned approval of the Woolsey permit.
"The IDNR decision to approve the first fracking well, despite the mass disapproval of Illinois residents, is blatant pandering to the energy industry and an affront to public opinion," said a statement from Food and Water Watch, which has pushed for a nationwide ban on fracking.
Jenya Polozova, an organizer for Food and Water Watch in Illinois, said opponents submitted several thousand comments opposed to the permit, as well as extensive scientific documentation on the dangers of fracking. She pointed out regulators had to ask for multiple corrections before approving the Woolsey permit.
"We're really concerned that DNR was very patient despite the fact they (Woolsey) were submitting seriously flawed applications," said Polozova. She added that opponents could continue to work for an outright ban in Illinois or at least even tougher rules for permits.
The group lobbied for a ban that recently took effect in Maryland.
Department of Natural Resources spokesman Tim Schweizer said approval of the permit clears the way for well construction. One other company, New York-based Kimmeridge Tri-State Exploration, has registered for hydraulic fracturing in Illinois but has not filed for a permit. A third company voluntarily withdrew its registration.