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Environmental groups lobbying state for two-year fracking ban

Fracking bill

By The Associated Press

Illinois House Bill 2615 would regulate the controversial method of oil and gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking. The legislation is unusual because it was negotiated with the help of industry and environmental groups. Here are some of the provisions:

–  All fracking wastewater must be stored in closed tanks.

–  Fracking chemicals must be disclosed publicly, with limits on information that may be deemed a trade secret.

–  Citizens may request a public hearing on proposed permits and may appeal permits that have been granted.

–  The state may deny permits during droughts.

–  Energy companies must test groundwater before and after fracking to identify potential contamination.

–  Drillers are presumed liable for contamination that appears near its operations after fracking begins.

–  Injection of diesel fuel is banned, and nearby abandoned wells must be plugged.

–  Venting and flaring of natural gas is restricted.

–  A detailed application must be posted on a state website.

–  Fracking wells may not be drilled within 1,500 feet of a public water supply intake; within 500 feet of any residence, school, hospital or existing drinking water well or spring; within 750 feet of a nature preserve; or within 300 feet of a waterway.

SPRINGFIELD — When sponsors three weeks ago unveiled a proposal to regulate hydraulic fracturing in Illinois, they were surrounded by supporters from both industry and environmental groups.

Legislative sponsors said the measure for regulating the technique for oil and natural gas drilling, if passed, would be the strictest in the nation — a model for other states to follow.

About a dozen environmental and citizens groups in Central and Southern Illinois disagree — and they plan to come to Springfield on Tuesday to lobby the General Assembly for a two-year ban on this type of drilling. Among them are Illinois People’s Action and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE).

Hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” — is a process that uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack rock formations to release oil and natural gas.

These proposals also would establish a 28-member hydraulic fracturing task force made up of representatives from government, industry, environmental and health groups. The task force would have two years in which to hold public hearings, conduct research, draft findings and make recommendations to the General Assembly.

The groups coming to Springfield on Tuesday also will lobby against the proposal introduced Feb. 21 by state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, and others — a proposal Bradley called a “historic, significant and comprehensive agreement” to regulate high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Illinois.

Among the proponents of Bradley’s proposal were representatives of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Spokeswomen for two of these environmental groups expressed reservations about fracking generally. “But we recognize that it is coming here. Leases are being bought, and for that reason, it is critical that we have protections in place, to protect the public,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But Illinois People’s Action spokesman Bill Rau called Bradley’s proposal a “deregulation” of fracking, not regulation.

“This bill will be a disaster for Illinois,” he said, calling it “fatally flawed” in part because it did not take into sufficient account the special characteristics of southeastern Illinois’ New Albany shale deposits where drilling is likely to start.

Rau, a retired professor of industrial sociology at Illinois State University, said he has been interested in energy policy since he was in graduate school.

“The evidence is coming out very quickly now that this is a really dangerous process,” Rau said, citing publications in the National Academy of Sciences.

Rau outlined some of his specific concerns about fracking in Illinois shale in a 10-page, footnoted letter he sent Jan. 30 to all members of the General Assembly.

But Rau admitted Tuesday’s lobbying effort won’t be easy.

As of Friday, at least 53 Illinois state representatives had signed on as sponsors of Bradley’s hydraulic fracturing proposal — Democrats and Republicans from all over the state. Only 60 votes are needed to endorse a measure in the House.

But Annette McMichael, IPA member and SAFE spokeswoman, said no matter what happens with Bradley’s proposal, “we will continue to push for the moratorium,” which she called a commonsense approach until scientific research moves forward.

McMichael is particularly concerned about water scarcity and quality, toxic waste and health challenges fracking may cause.

She also noted a federal judge’s decision Wednesday to lift a 17-year-old order that blocked oil and gas drilling in the Illinois Shawnee National Forest.

“Southern Illinoisans are being manipulated into believing that leasing their property is good for the country,” McMichael said. “It couldn’t be further from the truth.”

McMichael lives in Monticello but owns property in Johnson County, where her family plans to move soon.

She said she understands that horrible economic conditions in Southern Illinois are pressuring landowners to agree to leases that would permit drilling.

“But when we are talking about your own health being at risk, really nothing is more important than that,” she said. “We do not want Southern Illinois to become an industrial wasteland.”

Bradley’s measure is House Bill 2615. The two-year fracking ban proposals are Senate Bill 1418 and House Bill 3086.

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