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Fracking Laws Needed in Illinois

Illinois’ legislature last session failed to pass a law addressing fracking (hydraulic fracturing), and the result may be less that the state dodged a bullet and more that Illinoisans got a blindfold before the order to fire.

The House’s last-day attempt to impose a two-year moratorium and a tax on fracking scuttled SB3280, which in May sought to create fracking regulations where none exist (the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts it from the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and other federal environmental regulations). The state Senate unanimously approved the measure in April.

A special session of the General Assembly could address fracking as well as pensions.

Thom Cmar from the Natural Resources Defense Council said,“This is a chance for Speaker Madigan, Governor Quinn and Senate Leader Cullerton to show national leadership by putting in strong rules that require chemical disclosure, best practices for drilling and constructing wells, and protection of property rights – all issues that have been under attack in neighboring states and are very much at risk here in Illinois. With no regulations in place, half of the state is now exposed to risk. Since fracking has not yet begun in Illinois, we also have the opportunity to get real public protections in place before the practice gets underway.”

Fracking uses horizontal drilling and the high-pressure pumping of millions of gallons of water per well, hundreds of chemicals, and sand into bedrock more than 4,000 feet below the surface to crack shale and release trapped gas. Fracking’s problems – according to studies from Cornell University, Duke University, the EPA and other research – include water and air pollution, contamination of aquifers and soil, destruction of farm land and property values, storing toxic wastewater, overwhelming truck traffic, corporate secrecy on health issues (exposure to crystalline silica and chemicals shown to have respiratory or neurological effects, to be endocrine disruptors, carcinogens causing headaches, dizziness, sores or worse), and even the danger of earthquakes caused by fracking. (The targeted New Albany shale formation runs across southern Illinois, and interest is fierce in 19 counties there – where the New Madrid Fault and other seismic zones lie).

Illinois’ stalled bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, would require disclosure of all chemicals used and establish standards for well casings and wastewater storage. It approaches recommendations recently issued by the International Energy Agency, a group of 28 countries formed after the 1973/74 oil crisis, which released “Golden Rules” for fracking, including full transparency; monitoring of environmental impacts; engagement with local communities; careful choices of drilling sites and measures to prevent leaks into aquifers; rigorous assessment and monitoring of water requirements and of wastewater; measures to target zero venting and minimal flaring of gas; and improved planning and controls.

 Cmar added, “There is a lot of work that needs to be done in Illinois. The state does not have rules in place to deal with … fracking even though test wells have been drilled and leases are being scooped up. We need to look out for Illinois' public health, economy and environment – all of which are at risk.”

Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE), a group of regular Illinoisans who oppose the scheme, says the process shouldn’t occur because it cannot – and has not – been done safely.

Lynn Waters from SAFE said, “Fracking cannot be done safely with no adverse consequences due to numerous factors. Illinois has a history, well documented by Illinois’ EPA, of sterilization of thousands of acres of farmland, contamination of water supplies and death of farm animals due to fracking – even when fracking was small scale and only vertical. Today's approach of high volume, large scale and horizontal drilling can only mean exponential problems for Illinois.

“The people of Illinois should control their own land, air and water,” she added, noting that hundreds of governmental bodies have already banned fracking, including Carlyle, Ill., relying on language such as Illinois’ Constitution’s Article XI, noting legislative and individual responsibilities to protect the environment.

The claim that fracking will create jobs is no justification for the risk, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which shows that few jobs have actually resulted.

Lastly, a coalition of Catholic nuns, Religious on Water, which advocates against fracking, issued a statement saying, “Hydraulic fracturing currently has a confirmed track record across the United States of leaks, spills, dumping, blowouts and seismic activity, coupled with the inability to process the toxic wastewater. The hydraulic fracturing process is not clean, nor is it safe.”

So, it’s up to persuasion and politics, or people power, to protect Illinois.

Bill Knight is a freelance writer. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.