Monday, March 11, 2013

Much to like in new Illinois Fracking Bill

     A bill recently introduced in the Illinois House, HB 2615, would change much of what environmentalists find objectionable in current fracking regulations (or lack thereof).
     The bill was crafted over the past eight months by a team of House members led by John Bradley, a Democrat from Carbondale. Also involved in the crafting of the bill were representatives of the oil and gas industry, as well as four statewide environmental groups: Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment Illinois and Faith in Place. According to those groups, the regulatory framework that would be established by HB 2615 is stricter than that in effect in any other state.

     First among these stricter provisions are protections for water and air. HB 2615 requires that all of the flowback from fracking be stored in closed tanks rather than open pits, which is the norm now in states without such regulations. This drastically reduces the risks of spills, overflows and floodwater contamination, as well as other issues associated with the open storage of water mixed with hazardous substances.

The bill also protects against the pollution of water sources by stipulating practices in the construction and maintenance of gas wells, and it establishes a monitoring regime to verify that wells perform properly.

Under the monitoring regime, nearby water sources are sampled on a before-and-after basis. If new contamination is detected in post-fracking tests, the fracking company is presumed to be liable for it.
Illinois residents will also be pleased with the bill's provisions for public participation in the permitting process. It enables anyone who may be affected by a fracking operation to request a public hearing on the permit for it, and it stipulates that those are "contested case" hearings.
In such hearings, parties are allowed to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses, and the proceedings are documented so they can be cited in legal appeals.Much of the controversy around fracking elsewhere in the U.S. has arisen where oil and gas companies are able to keep secret what chemicals they are injecting into the ground in the process of fracking.

HB 2615 would require fracking companies to disclose to IDNR a list of all substances used in fracking fluids, the formulas for those fluids and their processes. This makes that material subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. In such cases, the bill provides that IDNR determines which parts of this information are proprietary, not the operators, as is the case in other states.
There is, of course, much more to HB 2615 than this, from setback requirements that keep wells a certain distance from homes, schools and hospitals, to reclamation standards that establish conditions for sites after wells are taken out of operation. People can learn more by visiting This Bill could well serve as a model for other states to emulate.

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