Fracking makes its debut in Illinois under strictest regulatory laws in the US

Starting this month, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has set up online registration for businesses to receive permits for fracking operations, setting the state up to receive its first large-scale fracking operations.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process of natural gas extraction using horizontal drilling to inject a highly-pressurized combination of water, chemicals and sand deep into shale rock layers that were previously inaccessible. The fluid creates or widens cracks in the rocks, allowing methane gas to escape.

Senate Bill 1715, the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act, was signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn on June 17. Local State Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-52, was the sponsor of the bill.

“If we didn’t pass anything, (fracking) was going to come to Illinois regardless,” he said. “It was not regulated and we passed the strongest regulations in the country.”

With this new law, Illinois became the first state to require pre and post-fracturing chemical disclosures and the only state to require pre and post-fracturing water testing, according to the bill.

Groundwater contamination is one of the biggest concerns regarding hydraulic fracturing. Robert Bauer, principal engineering geologist at the Illinois State Geological Survey, said studies have been done on the east coast to determine the effects on water supplies.

“The best studies are the studies where folks go in before drilling and do sampling of the water supplies and groundwater wells in the area, and then after hydraulic fracturing and drilling has taken place, do additional sampling afterwards,” he said. “Those type of studies have shown no contamination from these drilling operations, and that is what’s required for their permits (in the new act.)” 

Bauer added that ISGS were brought into the meetings concerning fracking legislation.

“(We) had a seat at the table of the multitude of folks who worked on this legislation, including a consortium of four environmental groups, the oil and gas industry and then all of the different departments in the state that would have concerns with this type of operation,” he said. 

Those departments included the Department of Health, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Attorney General’s office.

Frerichs admitted that though some are worried about fracking’s potential impact on Illinois’ environment, others believe it could actually help the state.

“Obviously there are a lot of concerns with what it could do to our water and environment. But there are also an awful lot of supporters who think that it has the ability to bring in much needed revenue to the state of Illinois, and make the state more energy independent,” he said.  “After three years of working on this bill, hopefully the assembly struck a nice balance between those different interests.”

Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, was one of the house sponsors of Frerich’s bill, and she noted the importance of regulations, specifically citing the aforementioned chemical disclosure provisions in the bill as being comprehensive. 

“I think anything that protects the people of Illinois, it really benefits all of us,” Jakobsson said. “Once this gets off the ground, I think that there will be many job opportunities for people working in that industry.”

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