State releases 135 pages of proposed 'fracking' rules

News-DemocratNovember 15, 2013 

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources on Friday released proposed rules governing hydraulic fracturing for gas and oil in the state.

The agency now will have two public hearings on the proposed rules and accept public comments on them before submitting them for approval to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The JCAR is a bipartisan commitee of Illinois legislators that sets state regulations.

The rules can be viewed on the IDNR website at www.dnr.illinois.gov/OilandGas/Pages/HydraulicFracturing.aspx

The proposed rules cover 135 pages and contain mostly technical language of how fracking operations will be regulated.

One industry representative said the proposed rules create a "difficult" regulatory atmosphere that might scare off some drillers.

Brad Richards, vice president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association, said Illinois might be on the verge of missing out on a windfall.

"Unfortunately, the delays and difficult regulatory scheme proposed have clearly cast a chill on leasing and exploration already, and another year with more of the same might be too much for these companies," Richards said. "There are plenty of states where this type of huge investment is welcomed."

But the proposed rules appear to undercut some key protections in the law, said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest program, who participated in negotiations.

For example, the law requires that wastewater be kept in tanks, rather than open pits used in some other states, but allows emergency overflow into reserve pits. But the proposed rules do not specify how companies should calculate the size of the tanks they'll need, and allows overflow to be removed seven days after fracking is completed, rather than seven days after it occurs -- which Alexander called an "incentive for industry to try to make routine use of the dangerous open-air pits, under the guise of emergency use."

Industry officials said they want to ensure the rules reflect what was agreed upon during the lawmaking process, adding that they have their own concerns about some language in the rules. Richards said those concerns include how to determine who may request a public hearing on a permit application.

"Our concern is that this has opened it up to where even someone from out of state could ask for a hearing based on opposition to fossil fuels," Richards said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack underground rock formations and release oil and natural gas.

Regulations signed into law in July by the governor were hailed as among the toughest in the nation. The DNR must adopt rules to reflect the law.

The DNR plans to have two public hearings on the proposed rules, one Nov. 26 in Chicago and one Dec. 3 in the Southern Illinois town of Ina.

A fracking opponent, Annett McMichael, of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, said two public hearings aren't enough.

"We were told there would be five hearings throughout the state," McMichael said.

People can submit public comments in writing or via the DNR website.

Fracking is expected to create an oil boom in Southern Illinois and create thousands of jobs. Opponents worry it will pollute and deplete water resources.

DNR Director Marc Miller said earlier this week that, with the current timetable, he expects it will be fall 2014 before any actual fracking begins.

Drillers had hoped that DNR would begin issuing drilling permits by spring.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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