Illinois’ fledgling hydraulic fracturing industry avoided another delay last week. The rules, which adopt a regulatory framework to facilitate and regulate unconventional drilling, were finally published after over a year in the works. Last week, the rules faced a preliminary injunction in a pending lawsuit brought by Illinois landowners, who oppose unconventional drilling. However, Judge Barbara Crowder denied the request for a preliminary injunction, explaining that the landowners did not face irreparable harm.
The group of landowners sued the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), complaining that it skirted the appropriate rulemaking procedures when it adopted its latest oil and gas regulations.Last summer, Illinois enacted the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act (HFRA), which gave the IDNR the power to make rules governing the unconventional drilling industry. In August, after considering thousands of public comments, the IDNR handed its draft rules over to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), which reviewed them until early November. The JCAR had the final word on whether the rules fairly balanced the industry’s and environmentalists’ concerns. On November 6, it approved and published the IDNR’s rules.
Shortly after, on November 10, the group of landowners filed their complaint in the Madison County Circuit Court: Smith et al. v. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Among its ten counts, the landowners alleged that the IDNR:
- failed to publish the rule in its regulatory agenda;
- failed to provide sufficient notice of public hearings;
- failed to make an agency official available to answer questions at the public hearings;
- denied citizens access to the public hearings;
- denied citizens opportunity to speak at the public hearings;
- failed to use studies, reports, or data to compose the rules;
- provided false statements in its notice of rulemaking;
- delayed publishing the transcripts of the public hearing; and
- failed to comply with the Illinois HFRA.
The landowners asked for a preliminary and permanent injunction. Judge Crowder denied the preliminary injunction – which required the landowners to prove they are subject to irreparable harm – and has not yet ruled on the merits of the remaining claims.