Illinois' Squandered Energy Opportunity

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Illinois' timing could not have been worse.

The year and a half it took Springfield to finalize the rules for hydraulic fracturing after the bill was signed in June 2013, likely resulted in Illinois missing out on an oil boom. "They finally got the rules passed, and it was days later that the price of oil started falling," said Seth Whitehead, Illinois field director for Energy in Depth.

Initially, Whitehead believed that falling oil prices would not impact fracking in Illinois. "Everyone remains committed to Illinois. They have waited a long time already and I haven't seen an indication that they are going to jump ship," Whitehead said. His optimism appears to be waning, however, and Whitehead believes Illinois would have fared better had some fracking wells been drilled. "If there were wells in production by now, we'd be in much better shape. There's no doubt about it."

The depressed oil prices have resulted in a significant pull back by some energy companies in Illinois. Denver-based Strata-X Energy invested about $2 million in Illinois, leasing nearly 50,000 acres over six years. Because of the depressed oil prices, Strata-X Energy can't afford to take the risk of fracturing in Illinois now, according to Timothy Hoops, the chief executive of Strata-X Energy.

Instead his company is looking to frack properties they've leased in proven shale states, such as North Dakota and California, where production costs are low enough so the company can still make a profit. Hoops says Illinois simply got left behind. "Illinois is not going to benefit from that last oil boom," Hoops said.

Woosley Energy is a leading holder of oil and gas leases in the Southern Illinois region. In December, Woosley Energy was conducting exploratory vertical drilling to determine resource levels and Mark Sooter, business development manager for Woosley, stated that the drop in oil prices "is not going to slow us down." However, Woosley Energy hasn't moved forward with fracking on the 50,000 acres it leased in Southern Illinois, and has yet to break ground on a $2.5 million headquarters it planned to build in the city of Fairfield in Wayne County.

Illinois has already lost a potential $500 million windfall over a 10-year period, according to an analysis conducted for the Chicago Tribune by Mark Haggerty of Headwaters Economics in Montana. Many Illinois farmers leased portions of their land to energy companies for $100 to $200 an acre. With the leases beginning to expire, there is dwindling hope that they will be renewed.

It is clear that if and when fracking does begin in Illinois, revenues the state expected to receive in the form of taxes from oil and gas extraction will be dramatically less.

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