PI Original Ashlee Rezin Tuesday March 5th, 2013, 7:07pm

Aversion To Fracking Continues In Illinois Despite Compromise Bill

As the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act was moved to committee yesterday, a coalition of 15 organizations sent a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly, asking for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, instead of regulations on the oil and gas drilling technology.

As the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act moved the House Revenue and Finance Committee yesterday, a coalition of 15 organizations sent a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly, asking for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, instead of just regulations on the oil and gas drilling technology.

“We simply do not think fracking can be done safely,” said Emily Carroll, Midwest region director for Food & Water Watch, a non-profit environmental advocacy group. Food & Water Watch’s Executive Director Wenonah Hauter signed the letter to Quinn and Illinois legislators.

“If this regulatory bill passes, it will essentially provide a roadmap for the oil and gas industries to frack the state,” she said. “We are concerned with air pollution, water pollution and economic decline in rural communities. Regulations or not, all of those things are going to take place.”

The bill, HB 2615, attempts to regulate hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, in Illinois by establishing a new permit program within the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), and requiring a permit be obtained before conducting high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing activities.

Fracking releases Earth’s natural gas by an oil and gas drilling technique that injects a mix of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to create cracks in deep rock layers. Supporters tout it as a job creator that supplies America with its own source of natural gas, but opponents question its environmental impact.

Sponsored by State Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) the bill had its provisions negotiated by legislators and representatives from various state agencies, the oil and gas industries, and environmental organizations.

But the coalition members that signed the letter to Gov. Quinn yesterday call the negotiations a “closed-door process that excluded many vital stakeholders.”

“Most notably, grassroots organizations working in communities in Central and Southern Illinois that will be impacted by fracking were excluded from this process,” the letter reads. “As such, this proposed legislation could potentially devastate downstate Illinois.”

Legislators are boasting the new regulatory bill enforces some of the strictest water and air protections in the country.

Among other things, the bill also requires fracking companies to disclose the chemical formula of their fracking fluid; requires all waste be store in closed tanks; bans the use of diesel in fracking fluid; requires that companies report the source of water and the total volume of water anticipated to be used during fracking; prohibits fracking within 500 feet of any residence, church, school, hospital or nursing home; and prohibits fracking within 1,500 feet of a surface water or groundwater intake of a public water supply.

Carroll said that although Food & Water Watch would like to see a ban or moratorium on fracking, the group does believe that communities should have the ability to regulate fracking at the county level, which is something the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act does not include.

Counties can formally object to a fracking permit, but the bill had no mandate for how the objections will be handled.

“The fracking regulatory bill does not represent the people who will be most effected by fracking,” Carroll said. “Illinoisans need a ban in order to ensure the safety of our communities.”

Along with Food & Water Watch, some of the organizations that signed the letter to Gov. Quinn include Illinois People’s Action, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, Americans Against Fracking. and 350.org.

But several organizations that previously expressed opposition to hydraulic fracturing in Illinois have embraced the new legislation as a compromise.

“We see fracking as an environmental disaster and we should keep it out of Illinois all together, but if Springfield fails to keep our state frack free, then some protections are better than none,” said Bruce Ratain, state policy associate for Environment Illinois. Environment Illinois has previously supported moratoriums on fracking in Illinois.

“This bill does bar some of the worst fracking practices, like open waste pits and the use of diesel in fracking fluid,” he said.

Ratain, as a representative for Environment Illinois, attended several of the bill’s negotiations with legislators when drafting the regulations. Ratain said it’s “telling” that grassroots organizations are standing up with concern and have sent a letter to Illinois’ legislature. He said residents are “rightfully scared.”

“While we think this bill takes important steps, the best policy would be to stop this dirty drilling before it even hits Illinois,” he said.

Gov. Quinn and Rep. Bradley could not be reached for comment.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) co-sponsored the bill with Bradley. Her statement asserted Illinois would see more than 45,000 jobs and $9 billion in economic development by way of fracking.

“One of the best ways to encourage growth is through our energy industry. We are blessed with abundant coal and natural gas resources,” Ives said in a statement. “With regulations that are reasonable and based on common-sense, we can grow our state’s competitive advantage, create middle class jobs and begin to re-fuel our economy.”

But hydraulic fracking has led to water pollution in Pennsylvania. And a Colorado study released in November 2012 found that non-methane hydrocarbons, or NMHCs, are found in the air near hydraulic fracturing sites even when fracking isn't in progress.

The study, published in the Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, tested air samples weekly near a fracking site for one year and NMHCs were found 73 percent of the time, sometimes in high concentrations. Researchers found more than 50 chemicals in the air, including 30 that affect the endocrine system, which is vulnerable to chemicals at very low concentrations.

“Fracking has done harmful things to land, people, air, animals and decreased property values in other states,” said Mary Bechtel, a member of Illinois People’s Action. “Why would we want to bring that to Illinois?”

Dawn Dannenberg, lead organizer for Illinois People’s Action (IPA), and Rev. Tony Pierce, president of the board of directors for IPA, both signed yesterday’s letter.

“We’re sacrificing our drinking water to line the pockets of big oil and gas,” Bechtel said. “You can’t regulate fracking enough to make it safe.”

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