SPRINGFIELD — A bipartisan group of lawmakers, business leaders and environmentalists Thursday unveiled a proposal to regulate “fracking” in Illinois.
The proposal would prohibit high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — without a permit. The Department of Natural Resources will adopt permit rules.
Because Illinois has no law dealing with horizontal fracking, “it could happen without anybody having a reason to say nay,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.
“This bill will provide us in Illinois with the strongest protection — for the public water supply, for air, for public health and safety — of any state in the nation,” Currie said at a Capitol news conference.
Sponsors said the proposal was the result of months of negotiating between legislators, state agencies, business and industry leaders and environmental groups.
The measure is a “historic, significant and comprehensive agreement,” said one chief sponsor, state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion. “It has been the result of an open, inclusive far-reaching negotiation and process where democracy has worked.”
Another chief sponsor, state Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, called the measure “historic from an economic standpoint.” The proposal puts public health safeguards in place yet allows industry development, he said.
“The revenue that this is going to generate for the entire state is going to be one of the things we need to get out of the financial challenges we face,” Reis said.
Hydraulic fracturing 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.
Companies have been acquiring drilling rights to use fracking in southeastern Illinois’ New Albany shale deposits. The region runs generally from Coles County in the north and points east of Interstate 57.
The shale deposits extend into Indiana, where some drilling already has occurred, Mark Denzler said.
Denzler, an Illinois Manufacturers’ Association vice president, spoke in favor of the proposal on behalf of GROW-IL, a coalition of business, labor, construction, transportation and agricultural organizations that support the drilling process.
He said this proposal would “create high-paying jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lead to low-cost energy for businesses and consumers.”
Denzler said a fracking regulation proposal was approved by the Senate last year but failed in the House, in part because some groups were concerned the proposal did not have strong enough safeguards. Since then, in months of negotiations, he said, “both sides gave a lot.”
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Among the proponents who spoke at Thursday’s announcement were representatives of Sierra Club and two other environmental groups.
Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Jennifer Cassel, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, both expressed reservations about fracking generally.
“We are not pleased hydraulic fracturing is coming to Illinois. We would prefer this risky practice would be studied further,” Alexander said. “But we recognize that it is coming here. Leases are being bought, and for that reason, it is critical that we have protections in place to protect the public.”
Both agreed the proposal represents “the strongest” set of hydraulic fracturing regulations in the nation.
Gov. Pat Quinn released a statement Thursday calling the proposal “good news for Southern Illinois and our entire state’s economy. This legislation has the potential to bring thousands of jobs to Southern Illinois, while also ensuring that Illinois has the nation’s strongest environmental protections.”
The measure is House Bill 2615.