Fracking in Illinois: Starting with Standards

Illinois has the potential to be the next state washed over in the fracking wave moving across the country. That could be a big problem as companies are buying up mineral rights in many counties, even though the state has virtually no rules on the books to protect communities and the environment from this controversial extraction process. Since everyone recognizes this lack of standards is a huge problem, efforts have been underway to get protections in place---elected officials, enviros, industry and community groups have been negotiating rules for many months now. And today, we have the results, with the introduction of a proposed fracking bill.

HB 2615 was rolled out in Springfield this morning. While far from perfect, as written the bill is hugely important to start putting protections for Illinois communities and our economies in place right now. In particular, the bill provides many critical protections that are lacking in other states’ piecemeal fracking rules. And as composed now, it would create new, stronger model standards here that could drive future debates about fracking in other states, and set a higher floor for any future federal fracking rules. These are important protections that legislators must fight to preserve.

The bill addresses an array of important issues raised by the arrival of the new combination of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to Illinois. While it is not perfect (did I mention that?), it represents the strongest state fracking rules we have seen to-date. However, there are a number of complex issues related to fracking that will require separate consideration in the future. For example, the state’s existing Oil & Gas Act is in desperate need of reform to address local communities’ rights to regulate fracking, as well as the Act’s provisions allowing unwilling property owners to be forced to lease their mineral rights for drilling.  NRDC fully supports updates in these areas and we intend to advocate aggressively for them.

Whether it is today or a few years from now, the regulatory process will move forward. We felt it essential to engage in the process to fight for robust, scientifically-based standards to protect our communities, and to preserve the public’s voice in the permitting and enforcement process. Fortunately, the General Assembly has been thoughtful and responsible in that process, making our continued engagement possible.

But our overall position on fracking has not changed: unless and until we have strong, protective safeguards on the books, we should not start fracking in Illinois. Certainly, plenty can happen between this point and the Governor’s desk, so while we are encouraged by what is currently in the bill (check my colleague Ann Alexander’s blog for a rundown of the technical issues addressed in the bill that has been introduced), we will remain vigilant for any weakening of the standards. A watered down version of the bill as it stands today might point to the need for other options in the Land of Lincoln.

NRDC is working to transition as quickly as possible to a clean energy future based on energy efficiency and renewable energy, but as long as we have to have dirty fossil fuels, our communities need the strongest rules in place. Those rules are only as good as their enforcement, which needs to be robust and strict. And that is another issue that we will be following if this bill moves forward.

About the Authors

Henry Henderson

Director, Midwest program

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