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Woolsey says 'burdensome,' 'costly' regulations lead to end of Illinois' first fracking permit

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Thursday, November 9, 2017  |  Article  |   ISAAC SMITH

Energy, Alternative Energy (93) , Fracking
ENFIELD — With Woolsey Operating Company walking back its efforts to frack for oil in Enfield, what was seen as a potential boon to the state’s rural economy has been dashed.

Citing onerous rules and regulations, Woolsey, a Kansas-based oil and natural gas company, earlier this month terminated its hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, permit with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The reasons for terminating were explained in a company statement.

“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,” the statement read.

Mark Sooter, vice president of business development for Woolsey, said the company received a letter Nov. 6 from the IDNR, releasing them from the permit.

When asked why the nature of regulatory process was news to the company after it got going, Sooter said the company knew about the process broadly, but wanted a live trial to fully understand the process.

“We thought it would be best to go through the process with this first one to see just exactly what it entailed,” Sooter said. “We also see that even though we got the permit on this first one … the realization is that future permits were going to be difficult to obtain as well.”

Woolsey was the first company to be approved for a fracking permit under the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act. It was approved in September.

Fracking is an oil and natural gas cultivation process that relies on high-pressure use of water and chemical injections to break up deep-rock formations, releasing oil and gas.

When asked what portion of the law specifically gave Woolsey trouble, Sooter deferred to the company’s statement.

“The drilling and completion requirements under the Act are stringent which will make future development costs of the New Albany Shale excessive and the obligations for compliance on our staff demanding,” the statement reads. That's the most specific the statement gets in terms of citing specific regulatory problems.

Enfield Mayor Tom Harbour was disappointed by the news. He said while there was little the village would directly receive from the wells, there would have been positive residual effects for the community.

“I hated it for our local economy,” Harbour said of the news. “They had a local drilling contractor, they are from Carmi, and they used local people for their rigs. So that’s another low downfall of it.”

Sooter said the company's plan is to let existing land leases expire.

In the company’s statement, it said Woolsey was “still of the opinion that the New Albany Shale has potential” however, Sooter said until laws change and oil prices improve — the company statement also said low oil prices were a factor in their decision — their fracking operation in Illinois was likely to stay in the abstract.

“Maybe there needs to be some legislation changes,” he said, adding that Woolsey itself does not currently have lobbyists working on the issue, nor have they reached out to any potentially sympathetic law makers.