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Fracking comes under fire in Ina

INA — Proposed Illinois rules to govern fracking are inadequate to protect the safety and health of people and the environment, numerous speakers testified Tuesday at a public hearing held by the agency that drafted the rules.

Speaker after speaker representing a variety of groups submitted comments critical of proposed rules written by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The hearing was the second of five the state agency is conducting to take comments on its proposed regulations to manage high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing and ensure public safety. The comment period, both submitted at hearings and in writing, expires Jan. 3.

The rules were written after Gov. Pat Quinn signed a new fracking law passed by the General Assembly in the summer. The law was tabbed by proponents as the toughest in the nation to ensure public and environmental safety.

Speakers on Tuesday disagreed, basing comments on their reading of the proposed rules. In the first hour of the hearing, no one spoke in support of the fracking rules.

Fracking uses a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to crack and hold open thick rock formations, releasing trapped oil and gas. Combined with horizontal drilling, it allows access to formerly out-of-reach deposits.

One man, Bill Reynolds, who did not name an organization or say where he resides, told the IDNR panel he feels “sorry” for the agency.

“You’ve been charged with an impossible task. You’ve been asked to make fracking safe. The best safe practice is not to frack at all,” he said.

Reynolds and others complained the rules are too lenient on would-be oil and gas drillers. Reynolds, for instance, questioned why past violations are not included in the reasons a drilling permit could be refused or revoked. He also questioned discretionary language in the rules for revocation of permits, saying “shall” should be used in place of “may.”

Sam Stearns of Pope County and Friends of Bell Smith Springs also criticized the permitting process, saying public comments on new permits should not be limited to those who live within 1,500 feet of wells.

Toxins from drilling, either in the water or airborne, would spread further, he said.

“Any person should be allowed to testify,” Stearns said. He added the rules are remiss in not including references to scientific data on which to base them.

Others criticized the rules for not going far enough to monitor and test for toxins that might enter the environment.

One common concern about fracking has been claims the practice will cause earthquakes , but Rich Whitney, chairman of the Illinois Green Party and an attorney on the legal team for Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, said the rules do not take earthquakes into account, regardless of the cause.

The state should “not allow fracking where there are active fault lines,” he said.

Nor do the regulations address tornados, another man said.

The process for public hearings was also criticized, with some saying they are not being held close enough to where fracking would occur. One woman said she has experienced difficulty submitting comments on the IDNR’s website.

Two of the next three hearings are to take place in Effingham and Decatur. The last one begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 19 and will be held at the SIU Student Center in Carbondale.


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