On Tuesday, Voters in Johnson County, Illinois rejected a local referendum designed to pressure county commissioners into enacting a ban on hydraulic fracturing.
Specifically, the referendum—technically a non-binding recommendation to the county commissioners—asked: “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?” Fifty-eight percent—about 2,200 voters—answered “no.” After the results were announced, supporters of the ban guessed that the language of the measure may have been difficult for voters to parse, with voters assuming a “no” vote was a vote against fracturing. The vote caused additional controversy when two local newspapers—the only papers published in Johnson County—refused to publish advertisements from environmental groups supporting the ban.
Johnson, a county of just 12,000 people located in southern Illinois, sits above part of the New Albany shale formation, industry experts have estimated could hold as many as 300 billion barrels of oil. The New Albany shale formation is spread across three states, with possible reserves of 86 to 160 trillion cubic feet.
Illinois is coming off of a year in which the state legislature passed a new regulatory framework for hydraulic fracturing while the Illinois Department of Natural Resources continues to draft administrative rules that will govern the practice moving forward. With the possibility of a state-wide ban all but gone, outside environmental groups are going local, urging counties like Johnson to enact localized bans on fracturing.