BLOOMINGTON — The McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals voted 6-0 Monday night not to recommend oil drilling near Downs.
Officials of Minard Run Oil Co. of Bradford, Pa., told the board the proposed oil field would be five miles from the Mahomet Aquifer and there would be no danger of contamination for the water source for more than 850,000 Central Illinois residents. Water safety was a major concern for neighbors and ZBA members.
“When water is drawn, it is transferred to a treatment facility where it is tested heavily, supervised, and looked over forward and backwards,” said company attorney William Wetzel. “There are very strict standards imposed and this company has a good track record.”
Minard Run applied for a special-use permit to drill for oil and gas near Downs, just northwest of McLean County roads 2200 East and 500 North. The land is owned by the Marianne Nelson O'Rourke trust and would be leased by the company.
The ZBA has been hearing testimony before making a recommendation to the County Board, which has the final say.
Chairman Sally Rudolph said: "I cannot vote to take this type of risk on public health and safety. The county does not have the resources to watch over this. I do not believe we have adequate data to be 100 percent sure this project will not harm the Mahomet Aquifer."
Opponents, including many representing the grass-roots activist group Illinois People’s Action, said there were too many unanswered questions.
“We have too many questions about the actual boundary of the aquifer and what is in this for McLean County,” opponent William Rau said. “It seems the county is taking on all of the risk and getting no reward.
“We’ve heard a lot of challenges from the company about who is an expert, and what right do we have to challenge this permit. But we are experts in our own lives, and experts in what we want for our health, safety and environment.”
Downs resident Margaret Keylin said she was disappointed more neighbors of the proposed oil well did not oppose the proposed permit during the ZBA hearings.
“I believe the people of Downs may be very much out of the loop on what an oil field really means,” she said. “I don’t think they fully understand what it really means or what it really looks like. I don’t want to live downwind of it or have to worry about what effect it might have on the water we drink.”
One neighbor, David West, did tell the board he would lose overall enjoyment of his property if the permit were approved.
“It would be a nuisance,” he said. “I have concerns about my drinking water and my water supply, and I have significant concerns about my property. I am the one taking all of the risk and I am the one with the negative outcomes.”