“You’ve got a bunch of environmentalists that want a bill of rights that covers a whole lot of stuff that these environmentalists stand for … and I’m not going to get into it,” Phil Stewart, one of the Johnson County commissioners, told Al-Jazeera. “I’ve leased my land to the oil companies and I see nothing wrong with fracking.”

At the heart of the issue lies the “New Albany Shale” of the Illinois Basin, which fossil fuel companies claim may contain up to 300 billion barrels of oil. The oil and gas industry has been exploring this shale area since Illinois passed the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act last June. Opponents of that law, however, say it fails to protect humans and the environment from air and water contamination, as Al Jazeera reports.

The referendum “has oil and gas interests panicked about a local effort to stop fracking,” argues Will Reynolds, an environmental activist and blogger, writing at the Huffington Post. “They’re spending tens of thousands in the rural county to defeat a referendum that opposes fracking and defends local rights.”

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce alone has spent $23,500 to promote fracking in the county “where less than 3,000 people cast ballots in the last primary election,” writes Reynolds.

And an out of state “front group for the oil industry,” according to Reynolds, has been sending professional mailings and robo-calls throughout the county in support of the energy companies, such as the Kansas-based Woolsey Petroleum Corporation, looking to move in on Illinois’ profitable reserves.

“The industry and their cronies recently realized that voters are siding with local control instead of handing their future over to Kansas-based frackers Woolsey Energy,” Reynolds continues. SAFE gathered 1000 signatures in support of the referendum, which is roughly three times more than required. In January 20,000 fracking comments were sent to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, opposing the “dangerously weak” fracking rules written by the IDNR to implement the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act.

Annette McMichael, communications director for SAFE and a Johnson County landowner, said that if Tuesday’s ban referendum fails, “We’ll go back to the education campaign — one thing the oil and gas industry doesn’t realize is that we’re never going to quit. And we have the truth on our side.”


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