Fracking bill fallout affects Illinois

By Matt Daray

A bill on hydraulic fracturing has impacted various groups for and against the process in Illinois.

The bill, which requires companies to adhere to strict regulations in order to use fracking in Illinois, was passed June 17 by Governor Pat Quinn. Now, almost one month after the legislation was passed, groups are dealing with the fallout of the bill. While pro-fracking groups and companies prepare to use fracking in the state, some anti-fracking groups are still fighting against its use almost every day.

“It’s about jobs, and it’s about ensuring that our natural resources are protected for future generations,” Quinn said after signing the bill. “I applaud the many environmental advocates and representatives from government, labor and industry who worked with us to make Illinois a national model for transparency, environmental safety and economic development.”

Hydraulic fracturing, also referred to as ‘fracking’, is a process of drilling and injecting fluid of various chemicals into the ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas and oil stored inside, according to the pro-environment group Earthworks.

Jim Watson, executive director of the Illinois Petroleum Council, said while the bill has already passed, it will be awhile before any fracking happens in Illinois.

“It’s affected the state by giving a sense of stability so people understand the ground rules and so they can begin preparing their plans for (fracking activities) coming into the state,” he said. “But the state has a lot of work to do before they’re really ready to start issuing permits. They’re not going to rush into this thing.”

Watson said the government allows for states to regulate how they want to handle fracking and Illinois handled the issue by putting the strictest regulations on using hydraulic fracturing in the nation.

According to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, companies must meet strict requirements such as taking multiple steps to prevent water pollution, having a high level of transparency to the public by disclosing information like the contents of the chemicals in the fracking fluid and ensuring little to no air pollution can be produced from the process.

Watson said while it is unclear how fracking will affect the state at this time, he thinks it will have a positive impact on Illinois’ economy. He said fracking will create economic growth and development in the state by creating private sector jobs.

While some anti-fracking concerns were addressed in the bill, some groups are still opposed to fracking in the state.

Annette McMichael, media communications director for Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, said the passing of the fracking legislation is still a shock to her group.

“We were totally dismayed at the fact that Illinois legislators would throw southern Illinois under the bus,” she said. “We feel like they’re not looking out for interests and are much more concerned about political contributions.”

McMichael said SAFE is opposed to fracking because it can pollute the environment, be dangerous to the community’s health and waste fresh water that can never be filtered again. She said the process can also force members of community to move if companies buy enough land around them for fracking.

While the group is working on re-organizing and making plans to protest and remove the fracking bill from law, it has gained strength since the bill passed, McMichael said. She said the group will have public events throughout the coming weeks to continue fighting against fracking in Illinois.

Though some of the public might be against hydraulic fracturing, the process will be safer and more beneficial to the state than people think because of the strict legislation, Watson said.

“I think if you (look) at North Dakota, since 2009 they have fracked over 5,000 wells without a single incident. That’s a pretty impressive record,” he said. “We have a stricter policy than they do … (while) I might respect and understand the concerns, I believe that the environmental community in Illinois did a pretty good job making sure most of those concerns were met.”