Mt. Vernon Register-News

State News

March 8, 2013

Judge clears way for drilling in Shawnee forest


Environmentalists behind the lawsuit that led to the injunction aren't sure what steps they'll now take. One said Tuesday that he doesn't expect Gilbert's decision will mean radical changes in the 280,000-acre national forest, which stretches from the Mississippi River in the west to the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky in the east.

But he hopes that public pressure can persuade the Forest Service to reconsider its 2006 management plan to further restrict oil and gas exploration and logging.

"I'm hoping that we could convince enough people in the public, enough politicians and public officials, even as far as (President Barack Obama), since this is his home state," said Mark Donham, one of the leaders of the Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists. "But we've shown now the last couple of decades we can put together a pretty good lawsuit."

Lifting the injunction probably means far less for logging than potential oil and gas exploration, Blume-Weaver. Forest restrictions mean that most logging is still likely to be mostly limited to cutting timber as part of forest management and restoration projects, he said.

Donham is less certain about what will happen with hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. The practice relies on high-pressure blasts of water and chemicals to fracture rock and release oil and gas trapped inside. While the petroleum industry says it's safe, environmentalists say it causes water and air pollution and creates other problems.

Fracking isn't addressed in the 2006 management plan because it wasn't an issue in Illinois at the time, Blume-Weaver said.

Now, Illinois lawmakers are considering draft regulations to allow fracking, and the petroleum industry is eager to explore the New Albany Shale formation. A small piece of the eastern end of the national forest sits over the formation.

"It's very possible (it could become an issue in the national forest)," he said, adding that companies are already approaching private landowners in the areas about leases.

A call to the Illinois Oil & Gas Association was not returned.


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