SPRINGFIELD — House Republicans cranked up the pressure Tuesday for a vote on legislation regulating high-volume oil and gas drilling in the state, saying Illinois is losing out on jobs and revenue by dragging its heels and the bill would easily pass, as it has the blessing of industry and some environmental groups.
Minority Leader Tom Cross and Rep. David Reis, a sponsor of the bill, accused House Speaker Michael Madigan of holding up the vote for political reasons while lawmakers try to overhaul the state's worst-in-the-nation pension problem and other contentious issues. The Republicans said the bill -- aside from a last-minute amendment on hiring requirements -- is ready for a vote and has widespread support.
"It's unfortunate sometimes that groups and industries get used as pawns for leverage," said Reis, who didn't detail the politicking allegations. "This is too important of an issue."
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, said fracking in Illinois could create as many as 47,000 jobs.
"After a year of negotiations, the legislature has reached a bipartisan agreement to expand fracking. We can't afford to wait any longer," Kay said. "With the number of jobs at stake and the economic impact fracking could bring to Illinois, we must vote on this agreement this spring."
Madigan has said he supports a temporary ban on hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," while further study is conducted.
The plan to regulate the drilling method was drafted with the help of environmentalists and the industry. It also has the backing of Gov. Pat Quinn, who's called it a jobs measure. But the proposal has been stalled in committee, most recently after an amendment was filed that would require energy companies to hire state-licensed water well drillers.
Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown said Tuesday that the fracking legislation isn't fully resolved, particularly on the workers' issue.
"You want skilled workers. You don't let some guy wander in from who knows where," he said. "He (Madigan) wants a moratorium unless the safeguards can be worked out."
Oil and gas industry officials oppose the amendment, saying energy companies have drilled in Illinois without such a requirement and that it would be unsafe to add a worker who wasn't trained in fracking. But unions say the measure would boost hiring and protect drinking-water aquifers. Lawmakers and industry officials in an earlier amendment already worked out fees and extraction, or "severance," taxes that drillers would pay Illinois.
There also are pending bills that call for a moratorium. Hydraulic fracturing uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack rock formations and release oil and natural gas. While the industry says it can be done without harm, opponents say it could cause pollution and deplete water resources.
Republicans said they didn't support the hiring amendment and want it tabled, meaning it wouldn't be part of the vote. A Democratic sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Bradley, didn't return a message seeking comment.
Consideration of the fracking bill comes as lawmakers have other big issues before them as the end of session approaches.
For one, Illinois has roughly $100 billion in unpaid pension liability, which is more than any other U.S. state and approving an overhaul has been Quinn's top priority. Lawmakers must also approve a budget and meet an early June deadline to comply with a court order to legalize the concealed carry of weapons. Lawmakers are also expected to consider a gambling expansion and same sex marriage.
Cross said that unlike those other bills, the fracking legislation had bipartisan, industry and environmental support and most of it has been agreed upon. He predicted the measure would easily pass in both chambers.
"This one, there is some common ground, there's consensus and there's an agreement," he said.
The bill is HB2615.