State bills aim to control 'fracking' to extract natural gas

State bills aim to control 'fracking' to extract natural gas

SPRINGFIELD — Two local lawmakers are promoting legislation to regulate the process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a controversial method used to extract natural gas from deep underground deposits of shale.

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson already has introduced two fracking-related bills, one (HB 3939) that would prohibit the practice on state lands, including parks, forests, natural areas and wetlands.

The other (HB 3897) would not prohibit the process in Illinois but would place a number of requirements on owners and operators of fracking equipment, including disclosure of all chemicals used in the process.

An industry spokesman said it would work with Jakobsson on a compromise on the latter bill, but said there is "absolutely no justification" for a prohibition on state property.

"I would point to an incredible success story where a horizontal (oil) well was drilled underneath Stephen A. Forbes State Park in Marion County, and it's the largest well ever drilled in Illinois," said Brad Richards, executive vice president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association. "It's made millions of dollars for mineral owners, including the state of Illinois. And there is absolutely no footprint on the state park. They rigged up outside on private land and then drilled directionally under the park to tap the reserves.

"This ban on hydraulic fracturing could potentially be a ban on any future activity of that type."

Jakobsson's bills are scheduled to be heard Wednesday morning by the House Energy & Environment Committee, although she said it's likely the hearing would be postponed.

A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which would have regulatory authority under both bills, said the agency has no formal position but is reviewing the bills.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said he will reintroduce fracking-related legislation he got passed out of the Senate last year. That bill (SB 664) passed the Senate 56-0 but then stalled in the House when it was amended to an entirely different piece of legislation, which then became law.

"We worked with the industry. We did not want to shoot down a potential source of jobs and energy," Frerichs said. "But we thought it was important to know what chemicals were being used in case something ended up in our drinking water."

Richards said his association "is willing to work with folks on issues like chemical disclosure and proper well construction and handling of materials at the surface."

But he insisted that hydraulic fracturing "as a potential source of groundwater contamination is not a legitimate concern here in Illinois. We just don't have fractures that propagate up thousands of feet. That doesn't happen."

Richards said that fracking has been practiced in Illinois since the 1950s, almost exclusively for oil extraction.

"Literally thousands of hydraulic fracturing jobs have occurred here. There's probably hydraulic fracturing well treatment going on somewhere today. It's not new," he said. "The difference is, though, that these shale plays going on in Ohio and Pennsylvania, it's a much larger operation."

And much more controversial.

Earthquakes in Ohio last month were tied by scientists to fracking. New York has large deposits of shale but has instituted a three-year moratorium on fracking because of health and safety concerns.

In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama said his administration would "take every possible action" to promote the expansion of shale drilling. But he said he wanted full disclosure of the chemicals used in drilling on public lands.

"America will develop (natural gas) without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk," Obama said.

Jakobsson said she wants disclosure from the oil and natural gas industry before hydraulic fracturing becomes common in Illinois.

"We really think that if we're going to have fracking in Illinois — and it's probably coming — that the people should know what's put down in these wells, and that the integrity of the casing should be good and that there should be disclosure," she said. "One of the reasons we're concerned here is that our water supply is our aquifers. We want to know what's being put into the ground, what could get into the aquifers."

But Richards said fracking wouldn't take place "anywhere near Champaign. We certainly respect the environmental community in Champaign. They absolutely have a right to ask their legislators to sponsor legislation like what we saw last year. What does concern us, though, is that the oil and gas industry is here in southern Illinois. We have 4,200 people who are employed in it. And so it is something we take very seriously.

"We, generally speaking, don't try to concern ourselves with issues in central Illinois because that's not where we operate. But this is very much a southern Illinois issue and we have a lot of folks who are concerned."