Politics & Government

Environmental groups push for ‘fracking transparency’ in Illinois

Republican state lawmakers from Southern Illinois pushed back last week against a bill that would require more public disclosure from oil and gas drilling companies whenever they use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” in their operations in the state.

Their comments came during a hearing Tuesday in the House Energy and Environment Committee. It is considering House Bill 282, dubbed a “fracking transparency bill,” sponsored by Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and supported by environmental groups including Illinois People’s Action and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment.

“Property and health concerns clearly give the public the right to know where the wells are going and what frack chemicals are being used,” Bill Rau of Illinois People’s Action told the committee. “Some horizontal wells are drilled only 500 to 800 feet below the surface, which can be within or just below strata containing groundwater.”

Fracking is a process in which oil and gas producers drill horizontal wells deep below the ground and inject those wells with pressurized fluids to break apart the rock and release deposits of oil and gas that would otherwise be impossible to extract.

In 2013, Illinois passed a law requiring full public disclosure of large-scale fracking operations, but that law applied only to wells that inject more than 80,000 gallons of pressurized fluids. No such wells have been drilled in Illinois since that time, largely because there is little left of the underground oil and gas reserves in the state.

The bill now being considered would extend those same public disclosure requirements to even the smallest fracking operations. Among other things, it would require the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to make public the location of every fracking permit it issues as well as the chemicals that are to be used in the fracking operation.

Rep. Chris Miller, a Republican from Oakland, in eastern Illinois, argued the bill, like its earlier predecessor, was intended only to turn public opinion against the oil and gas industry.

“It was bad then. This is bad now,” Miller said. “I personally have signed an oil lease and I know a lot of the things you said were just fear-mongering, trying to create fear and animosity.”

Rau and Gabel, however, said the bill would not impose new requirements on oil and gas producers. They said producers would continue providing state regulators with the same information they provide now. The only difference would be that the information would be made publicly available.

But Rep. Darren Bailey, a Republican from Xenia, whose district accounts for about half of all the annual oil production in the state, said he has not heard any concerns from his constituents about fracking.

“I’m a farmer. I’m out and about working with these people. I have never had this concern or situation with people wanting to know about the oil companies,” he said. “There is nothing hidden, and jobs in our area are certainly drying up. They disappeared. They’re gone because of the restrictions we put in place in 2013.”

Rau, however, argued that jobs in the industry have decreased in part because of declining prices worldwide, and because Illinois no longer has the oil and gas reserves it once had. But he said that trend could turn around if oil and gas prices go back up, which he said could spark an increase in fracking in Illinois.

The committee took no action on the bill, but it could be called for a vote at any time.

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