The state's permit application process for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has opened, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said on Tuesday. It is still not clear, however, exactly when fracking will start in Illinois.
The DNR requires firms interested in using the controversial drilling technique to register with the agency 30 days before applying for a permit. Once a company submits a permit application, the DNR has 60 days to decide whether to approve it.
The State Journal-Register reports that three firms have thus far registered with the agency.
Fracking is the practice of releasing Earth's natural gas by horizontally drilling with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand or gravel, and chemicals to create cracks in deep layers of shale rock.
Illinois Oil and Gas Association Executive Vice President Brad Richards told the newspaper that he thinks six or seven firms "are definitely going to give it a try" in the state. He predicts fracking would not begin until at least the middle of next year.
The group Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE) has been fighting to block the start of fracking in the state. The group and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit earlier this month arguing that the state's fracking rulemaking, related to the Illinois' Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act, "violated mandatory statutory and administrative rulemaking procedures and is therefore invalid."
Last week, a Madison County judge rejected the group's request for preliminary injunction to stop the state's fracking rules from being published this month, saying the plaintiffs did not prove that implementation of the rules would result in "immediate" harm.
SAFE is considering an appeal of the decision.