SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House Thursday voted 108-9 in favor of a proposal to permit and regulate hydraulic fracturing drilling for oil and natural gas.
While a handful of opponents urged that the controversial drilling process was too dangerous to be controlled safely by any law, some proponents warned that fracturing already had come to Illinois and that the state immediately needed the strong regulations put together in the proposal.
Other proponents emphasized the jobs and state tax revenue that development of the practice could bring.
The measure needs to receive final approval in the Senate before heading to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.
Quinn has said he would sign the proposal to "unlock the potential for thousands of jobs in southern Illinois."
The proposal would take effect immediately, although it provides a 60-day window between the time a permit application is filed and an agency response is required.
Hydraulic fracturing — "fracking" — is a process that uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack rock formations to release oil and natural gas.
Sponsor state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, called the proposed regulations a potential model for the rest of the nation. He called the proposal "a compromise forged in a democratic process."
Co-sponsor David Reis, R-Willow Hill, said the development of the proposal was "a battle of two passions" between the drilling industry and environmentalists. He said the negotiations happened in "a bipartisan manner I haven't seen here in my nine years" in the General Assembly.
Under the proposal, operators who use high-volume hydraulic fracturing drilling will pay the state of Illinois a tax based on the amount of oil and gas produced. Proponents estimate that a well producing 200 barrels of oil a day will generate more than $1.1 million in revenue during its life.
Bradley said fracking could bring from $10 million to $100 million a year, or more, to the state.
Another co-sponsor, Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said fracking would bring jobs not only to southern Illinois, but throughout other parts of the state that will supply the sand and steel needed in the drilling process.
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Bradley said job creation estimates ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 on the low end to as many as 76,000. Proponents expect job development in manufacturing, mining, trucking, rail, engineering and road building.
To encourage operators to hire Illinoisans for these jobs, the proposal includes a "local workforce tax rate reduction" incentive. Drilling operators will be able to reduce their severance taxes if at least 50 percent "of the workforce hours on the well site are performed by Illinois construction workers being paid wages equal to or exceeding the general prevailing rate."
State Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, expressed concern that the drilling could result in the migration of methane and chemicals into drinking water aquifers.
"I wish we could stop the clock a little bit" and wait for some national public health studies that are expected in 2014, added state Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago, who unsuccessfully sponsored a proposed two-year moratorium this year and last.
Mell noted that Johnson, Pope, Hardin, Union and Jackson counties in southern Illinois as well as the cities of Carbondale, Murphysboro, Alto Pass and Carlyle have voted for a moratorium on fracking.