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Can state truly monitor fracking?

Enforcement expensive, say opponents

14 hours ago  •  BY NICK MARIANO, The Southern

Despite proposed stricter laws that seek to protect the environment from the controversial practice of fracking, some opponents fear the agency responsible for enforcing those laws will not be able to.

Although regulatory legislation introduced last month would require a $1,300 permit fee for each well used for fracking to pay for necessary staff and resources at two state agencies, members of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing the Environment say the fees will not be enough.

The two agencies are the state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency, with most of the funds going to DNR for new staff it says will be needed to enforce the regulations if the bill passes.

The legislation also calls for a 3 percent severance tax, revenue that would be funneled to the state’s general revenue fund.

“I believe it is true that the DNR will hire more inspectors, but think about how much an enforcement agent will cost,” said Richard Fedder, a member of SAFE’s legal team. “How far is that money going to go?”

While projections on the number of wells that will ultimately be used for hydraulic, high-volume horizontal fracturing is difficult to assess, Fedder claims some 10,000 wells may pop up in the area based on observations in other states.

However, he said, the number of wells per year will not sustain salaries at a department that in recent years has undergone budget cuts resulting in fewer inspectors.

According to a DNR analysis presented to legislators for talks on a regulatory bill to govern fracking, 50 new staffers will be needed in the oil and gas division, 20 of which would include inspectors. The agency projects there will be 700 applications for wells filed.

“We will be ready to handle the regulation if the bill passes,” DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said.

The trend at the DNR has gone the other way due to budget cuts, but so too have the number of active wells in the state.

Currently there are 12 oil and gas inspectors at the DNR, 10 of which are assigned to Southern Illinois. That’s down from 17 in-spectors in 2003.

The number of wells is also down over a similar period. Today, there are 37,370 active or open wells. In 2005, there were 38,524.

Similarly, citations are down to 1,926 in 2012 to 2,489 in 2002, McCloud said.

In addition to revenues for the agencies, state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said companies would also be responsible for cleaning up damages caused by leaks or spills.

Also, Bost said he understands there are projections of $400 million that would be generated by the severance tax.

“That is a very big amount of money,” he said.



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