Quick Hit Aricka Flowers Thursday June 13th, 2013, 2:32pm

Illinois Environmental Activists Continue Fight Against Fracking

The fight against fracking in Illinois continues.

This time, activists from MoveOn.org, Food & Water Watch, the Progressive Democrats of America, Americans Against Fracking and other groups took to Wrigleyville and demanded that lawmakers not "play ball with the oil and gas industry."

At a Wrigley Field rooftop Tuesday, the group called on Gov. Pat Quinn to reject the regulatory fracking bill passed by the state legislature at the end of the spring session. Environmental activists say the safeguards in the bill simply do not do enough to ensure the safety of the controversial drilling procedure. 

“Merely regulating fracking will not protect us against its harmful effects, and that’s what makes the new fracking bill in Illinois so dangerous,” said Food & Water Watch Midwest Regional Director Emily Carroll. “Fracking is inherently unsafe and must be banned. That’s why we’re calling on Governor Quinn to do right by millions of Illinoisans and veto any bill that allows fracking in Illinois.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting oil and gas from the ground by injecting a mix of sand, water and chemicals into the Earth, creating craks in deep shale rock. The cracks, in turn, release natural gas located thousands of feet below the ground's surface. The bill, SB 1715, passed by the state legislature last month seeks to address concerns surrounding the controversial procedure, which has been linked to the pollution of drinking water in some states.

Specifically, the regulatory bill calls for the testing of water before and after drilling; prohibits fracking from taking place closer than 500 feet from schools, churches, homes, hospitals, water wells and other facilities as well as 300 feet from rivers, streams and other bodies of water; and holds drilling companies legally accountable for any contamination.  

Nonetheless, those who are dubious of fracking and question the bill's impact are calling for a temporary moratorium on the drilling procedure in Illinois to allow time for more research on its effects. 

"From poisoned water and agriculture to poisoned economies, the people of Illinois are doubtful that a regulatory bill will protect them and their resources from the myriad toxic effects of fracking,” Mara Cohen, an Illinois MoveOn member, said. "Until there is incontrovertible evidence that fracking does not hurt public health, the environment or local economies, we urge Governor Quinn to pursue a moratorium on the practice."

One of the major concerns about fracking is the effect it could have on public health. Namely, there is widespread concern that fracking could contaminate drinking water for those living downstate. Although the Illinois fracking bill calls for water testing to keep tabs on whether contamination is happening, those concerned about fracking say the practice is an unnecessary risk to the community and that the bill does not go far enough in terms of regulation.

One area of contention is the disclosure clause surrounding the chemicals used in fracking. The clause does not call for full disclosure of the chemicals used because some formulas can be considered trade secrets of which the company does not have to provide all information. The disclosure clause models a bill recently passed in Texas and one that is provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as a framework (PDF) from which states can work.

Here are some of the other regulatory issues that Illinois fracking opponents have with the bill, as explained by Food & Water Watch:

The bill endangers public health by establishing weak standards of operation for the oil and gas industry. It also fails to require full disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking, and would allow fracking operations to set up just 500 feet from water wells, homes, churches, schools, hospitals and nursing homes. SB1715 would allow the process to take place 300 feet from rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and would endanger water supplies by only sampling and testing water near drilling sites up to 30 months after drilling and fracking, despite the fact that the risk of underground contamination associated with these activities can persist for years.

"We can't let our nation's mad rush to drill compromise the vitality and health of our communities, as fracking and drilling for oil and gas has done time after time," said Gasland I and II director and Americans Against Fracking Advisory Committee member Josh Fox. "Rather than cutting back-room deals that only serve to benefit the oil and gas industry, Governor Quinn should be standing up for the people of Illinois by banning this toxic, reckless process."

The bill has been sent to Gov. Quinn, who is expected to sign it. The governor has said on a number of occasions that he believes fracking could be a job generator for the state.

"Hydraulic fracturing – commonly called fracking – is coming to Illinois, with the strongest environmental regulations in the nation," Quinn said in his State of the State address back in March. "This legislation has the potential to create thousands of jobs in Downstate Illinois. It will also ensure that our natural resources are protected for future generations. Let’s move forward on this jobs bill this year.

Images: Joe P. Dick from Wheaton; Rising Tide; and Emily Carroll

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