A deal forged between environmental groups and energy producers would put in place the nation's strictest regulations on hydraulic fracturing if it gets through the Legislature.
There is no source of energy that comes without a downside, but a recent agreement announced between environmental groups and energy producers could place Illinois in the forefront of states in regulating the controversial method of producing oil and natural gas known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
Energy producers have their eyes on a promising oil shale formation underlying several counties in southeastern Illinois and have been buying up rights for the chance to extract oil and gas by fracking.
On Feb. 21, Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, introduced a proposal that he called a "historic, significant and comprehensive agreement" to regulate high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Illinois, where little regulation now exists. Fracking, though not on the large scale that would be required now, has in fact been used for decades in the state to extract oil from wells.
High-volume horizontal fracking uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel, and chemicals, to crack rock formations to release oil and natural gas that may previously have been inaccessible or too expensive to recover.
Bradley gathered four representatives from energy interests and four from environmental organizations to participate in negotiations, and the result is a bill (HB 2615) that the Illinois Environmental Council says "establishes the most stringent regulations on high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the country." State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, was one of the negotiators for the bill, and more than 50 state representatives from both parties and all areas of the state have signed on as sponsors.
But Illinois' environmental community is split on its support for the proposed legislation, and opponents of the bill were to be in Springfield today to lobby for a two-year moratorium on fracking in Illinois.
Fracking has turned North Dakota from a backwater into an energy boom state for oil and natural gas and has fueled a feverish economy there. Other states also have seen oil and gas production increase due to fracking. But fracking has been blamed for air and water pollution as well. The northeastern Pennsylvania town of Dimrock, where residents claimed a gas driller poisoned their well water, has become a flashpoint for opponents. New York has a moratorium on fracking, and many other states have introduced legislation to regulate the production method.
But in our view, the negotiations were conducted in good faith and in a method all too uncommon — people with vastly different viewpoints hammering out agreement face to face on issues of vital public importance.
Gov. Pat Quinn supports the legislation, which he calls a "jobs bill" that could create thousands of jobs in an area of the state in need of economic development. He's right, and developing the resources also could be a source of tax funds for a state starved for revenues.
Energy resources need to be developed safely. In a state that all too often has done things the wrong way, this is the chance for Illinois to be a national leader in protecting the environment while developing energy resources. The General Assembly should pass Bradley's measure.