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Illinois Adopts Nation’s Strictest Fracking Regulations

Old State Capitol building Illinois via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

On Monday, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to regulate fracking in the state of Illinois. Legislation overwhelmingly passed both the Illinois Senate (52-3) and the House (108-9) last month. The law is now seen as the nation’s strictest for oil and gas drilling.

The Chicago Tribune writes that the legislation will force oil and gas companies to register with the Department of Natural Resources. In the permitting process they must detail:

  • how the well will be drilled
  • the amount of fluid used and at what pressure
  • how it will withdraw water, contain waste, and disclose the chemicals used

Additionally, a 30-day public comment period begins seven days after the Department of Natural Resources receives a permit application; and people who suspect fracking has polluted their water supply can request an investigation forcing the Department of Natural Resources to investigate within 30 days and reach a determination within 180 days.

While other states like Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming, have rules or laws requiring companies to disclose chemicals used during the drilling process, Illinois is the first state to require fracking companies to disclose the specific chemicals used both before and after fracking occurs. Illinois will also be the first to mandate companies conduct water testing throughout the entire fracking process.

Hydraulic fracturing typically involves injecting a high pressure combination of water, sand, and a mix of previously undisclosed chemicals into fissures in underlying bedrock to allow natural gas to escape. The chemicals in this water-intensive process have come into question because of their potential to pollute groundwater. Currently, the most efficient way for gas companies to dispose of the chemical-laden water is to store it in underground wells where it may reach water sources in the future.

With fracking operations already established in the state, many people feel that this rule offers strong protection and should be seen as a model for other states. At first, oil and gas companies claimed that the mix of chemicals involved in fracking was a trade secret and therefore needed to be kept from the public. Parts of the Illinois law will limit the ability of fracking companies to claim that the chemicals used in their process are proprietary information.

This regulation could mark the beginning of a new wave of fracking legislation. Other states are working on similar rules.

The Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is drafting a rule that would require companies to register the chemicals they use through FracFocus.org.

California’s SB 4 has passed the Senate and moved to the assembly where, if passed, it will require companies in the state to disclose chemical names and concentrations in an attempt to bring transparency to the process.

As for the Obama administration, the Bureau of Land Management’s draft rules released in May fail to protect people from harm and instead protect the oil and gas industry from having to follow strong environmental standards. More disheartening is that BLM adopted the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil.

Illinois’ new law comes only after three months of the end of the state’s 2012 drought. The drought in Illinois last summer cut corn production to the lowest levels since 2008 and soybeans to the lowest level since 2003. Springfield residents were under mandatory water-use restrictions from July 31, 2012 until March 7, 2013.

Droughts in the Midwest will become more frequent and will cause more limitations on water usage as a result of climate change. Every fracking job requires 2 million to 4 million gallons of water, according to the Groundwater Protection Council. The EPA has also estimated that the 35,000 oil and gas wells used for fracking consume between 70 billion and 140 billion gallons of water each year.

So while Illinois has passed what can be considered the strictest set of regulations for fracking in the nation, it has risked the state’s future access to water. Furthermore, it has likely increased the amount of pollution the state will release into the air and water. As the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club notes:

Fracking poses grave dangers to our communities, land, air, and water; and contributes to the continued destabilization of our climate. States like Illinois are largely on their own in facing these threats since Congress, in enacting one of the worst recommendations of the Bush-Cheney secret energy task force, exempted fracking from our most basic national environmental laws… These new regulatory measures are essential to provide a measure of protection for the environment and public health. However, new regulations will not make fracking safe, and our support for additional protections does not mean we have confidence that fracking can be done safely or without pollution.

Matt Kasper is the Special Assistant for Energy policy and Patrick Maloney is an intern for Energy policy at the Center for American Progress.

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