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Proposed fracking rules in Illinois raise ire of environmentalists

Groups fear weakening of state law passed five months ago

November 16, 2013|By Julie Wernau, Chicago Tribune reporter

Proposed rules for horizontal hydraulic fracturing, made public Friday by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, are raising the ire of environmental groups who contend the rules would weaken key components of the state law passed five months ago.

Oil and gas drillers also aren’t happy because the time required to hear public comments, respond to those comments and make revisions to the proposed rules could take months.

Brad Richards, vice president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association, suggested Friday that some companies that have leased land might give up on the state, which has been counting on fracking to bring much-needed jobs and tax revenue to southern Illinois.

Marc Miller, director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said this week that fracking might not begin for a year in Illinois.

Ann Alexander, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago, said she was concerned because the draft weakens regulations aimed at protecting groundwater. Environmentalists successfully fought for a requirement in the law that wastewater from fracking operations be contained in tanks except in emergencies when it could be stored in open pits for up to seven days. The rules as drafted, she said, would allow wastewater to sit in open pits throughout fracking operations and up to seven days after fracking operations had ceased.

Environmentalists fear that the water and the chemicals used in fracking could leach from pits and contaminate groundwater.

Alexander also sounded an alarm over a softening of safety rules. In an emergency, the law required drillers to disclose chemicals used in fracking to health professionals. But as outlined in the draft rules, the only way emergency personnel could get that information would be by calling the state Department of Natural Resources during business hours or calling the drillers directly.

“DNR was unwilling to take another few months to get right a set of regulations that the state is going to have to live with for perhaps decades,” Alexander said. “The result is, frankly, a mess.”

Chris McCloud, a department spokesman, said the agency promised “to present the draft rules to the public as soon as they were ready to be presented, and that’s what we did.”

Richards said the department did a “very good job” drafting the regulations and sticking close to the intent of the law. He said the industry group he represents, however, is concerned that language in the draft rules could open the door to out-of-state groups fighting permits in Illinois.

People can review and comment on the proposed rules through Jan. 3. Comments can be submitted online at

Public hearings are scheduled for Nov. 26 at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Dec. 3 at Rend Lake College in Ina. The hearings begin at 6:30 p.m.

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