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S. Illinois Counties Seeing First Of Fracking Rush

Gov. Pat Quinn and industry groups say the new drilling could create as many as 40,000 jobs, by some estimates. Many counties in this often-struggling, largely rural region say could use the jobs they're convinced would come from the drilling itself, the building of fences and roads, and the related trucking.

For now, fracking is waiting on state lawmakers, who will resume weighing how to regulate it when they return to Springfield next week. Industry groups and some environmental groups have crafted a compromise that would implement some of the toughest regulations in the country, but other environmentalists are demanding a moratorium until the impact can be further studied.

Of special intrigue is the region's New Albany Shale, a formation roughly 5,000 feet below the surface. While the industry says the formation underlies some two-thirds of the state, land is being leased in only about 17 southern counties because the shale likely will yield significant natural resources only in the areas where it's deepest underground.

Brad Richards, the Illinois Oil and Gas Association's executive vice president, called the estimate of a half-million acres leased for future drilling conservative. Energy companies must file their leases with the counties, but many may be waiting for competitive reasons. Because they're not kept in one central location for the state â¿¿ along with the fact that leases are filed manually rather than electronically â¿¿ it's difficult to easily discern how much acreage is under lease.

Hamilton, Wayne and White counties, where oil and gas drilling has taken place for decades, are among the hottest targets for prospectors, though leases also are being acquired in two counties â¿¿ Johnson and Pope â¿¿ where there never has been drilling, Richards said.

It's been good for the bottom line of Hamilton County, where clerk and recorder Mary Anne Hopfinger says her office has reaped some $450,000 the past two years just in copying and other fees from visiting land title researchers. During that stretch, she said, more than 1,600 oil and gas leases have been logged there, 1,000 since January 2012.

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