The IEC's Executive Director, Jennifer Walling, yesterday announced in an editorial in Crain's Chicago Business that the IEC supports Illinois fracking bill, SB 1715. While IEC does not support high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, this appears to be a compromise position to ensure fracking operations move forward subject to meaningful environmental regulations.

In her editorial, Ms. Walling addressed two critical points:

First, although the extraction potential of oil and gas through fracking in Illinois is unknown, oil and gas companies already have leased thousands of acres of mineral rights in southern Illinois. There is considerable evidence new fracking technology is already occurring here and it will be expanding in the near future.

The second critical fact is that Illinois has almost no regulations governing fracking. Without legislation to stringently regulate fracking, Illinois is in a highly vulnerable position. Current mining and extraction laws in Illinois are horrifically inadequate to regulate this new, highly industrialized fracking process, putting Illinois property owners at risk for the same sort of water contamination that has happened in other states. Illinois law today does not require water testing either before or after fracking. We have no setback laws governing how closely wells can be placed near homes or schools, rivers or lakes, parks or natural areas.

In short, fracking can occur anywhere in Illinois today.

While SB 1715 is compromise legislation, key provisions are included that were sought by a coalition of environmental groups such as:

  • Waste water must be stored in closed-loop tanks rather than open pits, except in rare emergency circumstances.
  • Well and surface water must be tested before fracturing and must be monitored after fracturing. If contamination is shown, the operator is presumed liable and must rebut that presumption.
  • Robust opportunities for public participation and opportunities for citizen suits to enforce the law.
  • Strong well construction standards.
  • Full disclosure of chemicals – even trade secrets must be disclosed to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and health care professionals.
  • Ban on injecting diesel compounds, setbacks, well-plugging requirements, a required water management plan which includes total water usage, and natural gas flaring requirements to minimize air pollution.

The preferred course of action for the IEC would have been passage of a fracking moratorium. Since a moratorium was not a political reality, the IEC is supporting proposed SB 1715 to regulate fracking operations. In lending IEC's support, Ms. Walling noted:

"Our support for these safeguards does not represent an endorsement of fracking. However, with risky fracking operations legal today, hundreds of thousands of acres leased for drilling, and evidence the drilling has already begun, it is essential for the Legislature to pass tough restrictions immediately to protect our communities. SB 1715 ends the possibility of high-risk unregulated fracking occurring in Illinois and we support it."