Illinois moves closer to enacting fracking regulations
The Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act is moving closer to passage with more than 50 sponsors including downstate lawmakers Reps. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro and John E. Bradley, D-Marion, but even if the legislation passes, the debate in Illinois over the practice will be far from over, according to environmental groups who support a moratorium on the practice.
“Sierra Club is opposed to fracking,” Sierra Club Illinois Chapter director Jack Darin wrote last week on Sierra Club Illinois’ blog. “Fracking is devastating to communities and families all over the country, polluting our air and water, and contributing to the destabilization of our climate.”
Darin’s statement at first appears to be at odds with the Sierra Club’s recent endorsement of HB2615, the regulatory bill proposed and said to have broad support by both industry and environmental groups, until one reads his post a little further.
“While we stand with all of those calling for a moratorium, we also acknowledge that, until we pass a moratorium, fracking is legal in Illinois, and may indeed already may be occurring,” Darin said. “HB2615 does not allow or open the door to fracking in Illinois, unfortunately that door is wide open today, and our health and environment are at great risk.”
Supporters of a moratorium on fracking have said that they are not opposed to the practice ever taking place in Illinois, but that they believe more time should be allowed for scientific study.
Last week, those environmental groups received welcomed support from House Speaker Michael Madigan who said he supports a moratorium with the Associate Press quoting him as saying, “Read about what happened in Pennsylvania,” referring to the battle over claims of polluted water near drilling sites.
Some have said that Madigan’s support was given as a “hardball tactic” to help move negotiations over severance taxes forward and indeed a deal was reached by the end of the week, but those details have not yet been provided.
The standard description of fracking is that it uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack rock formation and release oil and natural gas. Energy industry say the practice has been performed safely for more than 30 years while opponents say it can cause air and water pollution.
Local grass roots efforts opposing fracking have been behind the creation of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE), whose representative has visited Johnson County commissioners meetings on several occasions and is once again on the agenda for an upcoming March 25 meeting. Spokeswoman Annette McMichael said she is looking for Johnson County to consider supporting a moratorium on fracking until further studies are completed.
“We are not asking the commissioners to make decisions for what people do with their land, we’re asking them to consider that due to forced pooling decisions will be out of a landowner’s hands,” McMichael said, adding that properties could fall under a provision of the Oil and Gas Act that allows drilling if 51 percent of landowners have already agreed.
McMichael, a landowner in Johnson County, is scheduled to testify in Springfield on Thursday in her support of SB1418 and HB3086, bills that propose a two-year moratorium on fracking in Illinois. She said she would welcome others to join her at the commissioner’s meeting Monday saying that landowners need to understand that their property will never be the same again once fracking begins.