The fracking debate is heating up in Illinois—as it needs to since it is becoming abundantly clear that fracking may have begun in this state. With almost no laws in place to protect the public from the known—and very scary—dangers associated with the controversial oil and gas extraction technology, communities across Illinois are in harm’s way. And with more than a quarter million acres of leases bought up by the industry in recent months, that danger is acute. The Illinois General Assembly is running out of time to take action to protect its citizens.
This state is not anywhere near ready for fracking and we do not think it should be allowed to move forward. But since hydraulic fracturing is legal in Illinois right now, immediate protections are critical. Under existing law, anyone with $100 can apply for a permit to drill and the state is obliged to give permission within 48 hours; there is no discretion to say no. That means Illinoisans are at risk today and we simply cannot allow that to continue. And that risk is not a paranoid hypothetical. Although the weak laws on the books provide very little information about what is happening on the ground, our information indicates that high-volume fracking has likely already started happening.
Of course, the best protection is not to frack at all. We worked hard last year to support a moratorium on fracking in Illinois, and we still would like to see a moratorium in place to give the state an opportunity to fully evaluate fracking, assess its public health impacts, and identify actions necessary to prevent harm. We have said the same thing in New York. We’ve said it before here. And we are repeating it now.
But should the moratorium not pass, this state simply must have rules in place to protect its citizens immediately. This is why NRDC and the Illinois environmental community took part in negotiations of the regulatory bill also in play in the General Assembly—to get what protections we can against this immediate threat in place now, while we continue the fight.
While not a comprehensive solution, and a far cry from perfect, the regulatory bill contains some crucial protections that citizens wouldn’t otherwise have. This includes giving them access to the courts, public disclosure of chemicals, assumption of fracker liability if water is contaminated, mandated water testing and strict wastewater management requirements. But make no mistake, there are still deficiencies and this bill won’t make fracking “safe.” As a negotiated bill, it still lacks many things we think are necessary including provisions for local community control over fracking, shoring up Illinois’ disposal well rules, as well as stronger setbacks to protect people’s health. We intend to continue pressing all of these issues and more, while in the meantime focusing on getting protections in place for communities in danger right now. We’re sending the oil and gas industry a strong message that we will not sit back and let them operate freely in the shadows, leaving Illinoisans to suffer the consequences.