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In Illinois, environmentalists and industry compromise on fracking bill

Illinois Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday to announce proposed new fracking regulations. (Associated Press / Seth Perlman)

Illinois Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday to announce proposed new fracking regulations. (Associated Press / Seth Perlman)

Environmental leaders are calling a bill introduced Thursday in the Illinois legislature potentially the strongest measure nationwide for regulating hydraulic fracturing, also commonly known as fracking.

The legislation — called the “Bradley bill” after its sponsor, Rep. John Bradley — included nearly all the provisions that leaders of major environmental groups had expected after months of discussions with industry, legislators and the state’s attorney general.

“But there’s a caveat when saying (a fracking bill) is the ‘strongest in the nation,’” said Jennifer Cassel, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC). “That’s not saying all that much – we don’t think the floor is high enough. It doesn’t mean we’re doing the most protective standards that could possibly be done.”

A representative of the oil and gas industry also described the bill as “not perfect by any means.”

Kyna Legner, writing for Energy in Depth, a publication of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the bill “includes significant new requirements for hydraulic fracturing that could serve as a barrier to future operations.” The legislation does, however, avoid a moratorium, which she said “would be far more destructive.”

Meanwhile, opponents of fracking – including many area residents who say they were not included in the discussions – oppose a regulatory bill and continue to demand a moratorium or ban.

Also, as Legner noted, the bill is “a long way from becoming law, and much can change as the legislative process unfolds.”

Water protections

The Illinois bill, HB2615, mandates baseline water testing before fracking starts, and water monitoring thereafter. If contamination is found, it is presumed that the industry is liable.

“It’s the obligation of the industry to show that they didn’t cause that contamination and not the reverse,” said Cassel. “Water monitoring obviously plays very much into that presumption. We’re finding out what’s in the water sources before we start fracking. These are pieces of information that, shockingly, are absent in other states.”

The bill requires that contaminated “flowback” and “produced water” be stored in closed containers or, in emergency situations for up to seven days, in lined pits. The contaminated water is ultimately disposed of in underground injection wells; the bill requires that such wells meet certain standards and be tested every five years.

The bill also bans the use of diesel fuel as a fracking agent.

“Diesel has no place in fracking, it contains carcinogenic compounds and it can make its way into the groundwater,” said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior attorney Ann Alexander.

Companies would be required to disclose to state officials the concentrations and names of chemicals they will use before they begin fracking; however companies can claim trade-secret privileges to prevent that information from being made public.

A controversial Illinois bill introduced last year would have severely limited the number of people with official standing to challenge the invoking of trade secrets. Under the current proposal, anyone can challenge companies to disclose chemicals.

Cassel also highlighted a requirement that has gotten little attention: a mandate that companies plug nearby abandoned wells to avoid fracking-contaminated water flowing up through them, as has happened in other locations.

The NRDC and ELPC are members of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.

Other provisions

The Illinois bill goes further than federal clean air laws in limiting the release and flaring of natural gas during operations, important for reducing carbon dioxide and other emissions.

Federal law limits gas emissions during the phase where the shale is actually fractured, and a “whoosh” of gas is emitted from the ground, in Alexander’s words. The Illinois bill extends gas emissions limits to the production phase of fracking, where lower amounts of gas can escape along with the gas or oil actually being collected.

The state bill also requires that if gas is flared, the company must prove it is burning off all the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that otherwise could pose a public health risk. Alexander said federal law has no such requirements.

Also, while federal law only applies to fracking for gas, the Illinois bill also applies to fracking for oil, Alexander said. It is unclear so far what mix of oil and gas might be obtained from Illinois’s New Albany Shale, where companies have leased more than half a million acres.

The bill also includes insurance and bonding requirements that Alexander described as “adequate.” Companies must put up $50,000 bonds for each permit or a $500,000 blanket bond to cover multiple permits. The bonds are meant to cover problems until the well is officially plugged and abandoned.

Cassel said the bill’s public participation and transparency requirements are strong. Permits must include specific information on where the company will get the water it uses to frack, and the permits must specify measures taken to reduce water usage.

Within five days of receiving a permit application, the state Department of Natural Resources must post on its website the application and notice of a 30-day public comment period. The department also must mail notices to all landowners within 1,500 feet of the proposed well site.

The bill includes fairly specific best practice requirements for well design, construction and monitoring, including procedures and standards mandating how the cement in the well is pumped in and how much pressure it must be able to withstand. And the bill requires any surrounding fresh water and “flow zones” be completely isolated from the well.

Opposition from local residents

The bill includes the vague mandate that fracking “shall not pose a significant risk to public health, life, property, aquatic life or wildlife.”

But many Illinois residents who live in the areas where fracking is proposed say they don’t believe regulations can prevent such harm. Fracking opponent Richard Fedder said in an email to Midwest Energy News that the proposed bill may be “better than any other state at holding the industry accountable AFTER our water is poisoned.”

“But environmentalists, and just plain ordinary people, would prefer that their water not be poisoned in the first place,” he said. “Or even simpler — We don’t want our land to dry up because this giant industry sucks up all our water.”

Residents and environmental leaders involved in the regulatory negotiations note that the bill does not address problems under the existing state Oil and Gas Act — for example, the “forced pooling” policy which means individual residents can be forced to lease their mineral rights if those rights are part of a “pool” of oil or gas co-owned by others.

The bill also does not allow towns or other local governing bodies to place their own restrictions or bans on fracking. Alexander said such local control was discussed early in the negotiations, but the concept was tabled.

The group Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE) and other anti-fracking groups support a bill introduced earlier this month by state senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) that would put a moratorium on fracking. There is an active grassroots anti-fracking movement in Chicago as well as downstate.

Meanwhile, Alexander praised House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) and Representative Ann Williams (D-Chicago) for environmental protections that made it into the regulatory bill.

People involved in the negotiations say the regulatory bill has a good chance to pass in its current form, but industry or other interests may push for changes.

“At this point we’re not really willing to tolerate any weakening of this bill,” said Alexander. “This is hard-fought, we have these terms that are not perfect but they’re what we’ve agreed to, and we won’t stand for it being chipped away at. We’re hoping everyone stays on the same page.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Kyna Legner’s name.

Comments (9)

My concerns relate to the failure of IDNR to apply and enforce coal mining regulations. Health and safety of communities are ignored and the same will happen with gas and oil regardless of how comprehensive the fracking laws are. There is a drought in the Midwest, but the needs of industry are placed above those of residents. There is a structural problem with regulatory agencies that adversely effect communities, but enhances profit and power of corporations. Whose economy really benefits? IL needs to look at its present and long term handling of its natural resources.

By Mary Ellen DeClue on Feb 22, 2013

I have not seen the language of the new bill, but we certainly hope that it included sections that limit or prohibit some of the documented radiologic impacts of fracking — production of radon gas, radium content of waste waters, waste water needing to be treated as radioactive wastes, and even fracking for radioactive elements like uranium as is currently going on in Texas. This information was provided by our organization to many legislators by e-mail weeks ago. If these issues were not explicitly addressed, these hazards may now be outside the scope of this proposed legislation, and the public and environment left unprotected from these harms.

By Dave Kraft, NEIS on Feb 22, 2013

Dave – the full text of the bill is linked in the story, also available here.

By Ken Paulman on Feb 22, 2013

Fracking may contribute to earthquakes… (?) So can other types of processes which seems insane considering that much of this can impact where our nuclear power plants are located in Will County & neighboring areas are on one of the largest fault lines. This is of serious concern because they keep playing commercials for earthquake preparedness in ILL. Since IEPA & IDNR is so limited & not allowed to actually do their job; it would not be wise or “SANE” to proceed with these types of operations. If it’s jobs there are so many jobs ready & waiting to clean up all these toxic messes inorder to provide clean safe water in many communities that are in jeopardy or already compromised. These giant tax-dodging Corporations should not be allowed to jeopardize everyone & everything with only Limited Liability Insurance & personal insurance will not cover property damages let alone major health impacts. MORE CANCER TREATMENT CENTERS ARE NOT A SOLUTION TO POLLUTION. We need safe & clean Green LAWS-Land, Air & Water Solutions not more life altering/ending pollution. We deserve jobs that don’t make employees & communities collateral damage. AmeriCANS Can do it.

By Tammy Thompson on Feb 22, 2013

I agree with those comments above. Remember in 2005 when Dick Cheney of Haliburton called the energy companies to closed door meetings to formulate the national energy policy? From that came the “Haliburton Exemption” which let drillers of oil and gas off the hook for compliance with clean environment acts. Here we go again with the industry writing the laws that will regulate their own operations. Let’s remember also that the only purpose for corporations is to make a profit for its investors and to limit the personal liability of those investors. $500,000 to cover multiple wells for a bond or insurance is nickels and dimes, no, pennies for these multi-billion dollar industries. This article does not mention the details of the alternative bill, SB1418, introduced by Sen. Mattie Hunter, which is a moratorium/ban with the creation of a task force to investigate for up to two years the scientific facts of the impact of fracking on public health and the environment. Regulations before gathering all the facts from organizations currently studying impacts in other states is premature. When we are talking about the water that comes out of your tap and water that is consumed by your vegetables and animals that become your dinner, “not perfect” does not cut it. When we are talking about methane leakage, we are talking about not just up to capping and abandoning a well, but for 20 to 100 years or more, way passed the time the industry conveniently limited their own liability. As we see our infrastructure decay or break, so too will the containers and pipes used to store radioactive toxic hazardous waste and methane. Concrete plugs do not last forever. We can not just think about the next quarter, we must start thinking of the generations after us. With the state of Illinois having financial problems, what is the source of the funds to enforce regulations, to repair containment vessels and pipes after drillers are done years from now? Kyra Legner of EID, the promotion arm of the energy industry, calls a moratorium “more dangerous” — more dangerous to energy company quarterly profits she means, but significantly less dangerous to our water, our food supply, our health, our planet’s climate. The regulation sets liability to extend only 1500 feet from the well, but with horizontal drilling possible for up to 10 miles in any direction from the well, the gas and water leakage will be far away on some other property owners land, not the one the drillers paid lots of money for the rights to what is under the property. Once the contamination is done, it can’t be undone. I spoke with senator last night very briefly at an event. When I mentioned that methane is 21 times as damaging as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas because it stays in the atmosphere longer, he seemed to be surprised and unaware of that fact. That is why we need to wait for a task force to report the facts to our legislators before regulations are written and before drillers are allowed to start fracking. This article does not reveal the millions of gallons used per well per frack, the number of times a well can be fracked, the number of wells per area, and how many of those areas will have wells. Did the creators of this regulation bill see a study to determine if Southern Illinois has enough clean “sweet” water for both residents’, wild and domestic plants and animals, irrigation, and then the fracking operation, because that water will not ever again be useful to the community. Let’s go a step farther, which legislators own property on which drillers are willing to pay for the right to drill, and which legislators own businesses or property which will prosper from the indirect operations of fracking? Would that be a conflict of interest? Which businesses or property will be damaged by those indirect operations, like transporting all those toxic chemicals and sand and water to the wells. I think full disclosure of this aspect and the effects of fracking on public health and the environment is something the public effected has a right to know. Let’s at least ask to prevent any disasterous results!

By Leslie Roberts on Feb 22, 2013

I do not trust this legislation at all! The biggest reason why I do not is because of this blog post that exposes Bradley for what he is: http://engineergreen.blogspot.com/2013/02/john-bradley-heading-up-negotiations-on.html

And that is that he is in bed with the very industry that wats to do this in our state!

By Florence Dogood on Feb 22, 2013

The article fails to identify which “environmental leaders” are being referenced in the first sentence, inviting readers to conclude that all environmental leaders are endorsing HB2615 as a very strong measure. Later, readers might infer that the leaders are limited to the cited organizations — NRDC and ELPC — NGOs that also are supporting members of this publication. In either case, the opening sentence requires, to aware skeptics, a justifiable questioning of the agenda of the author/editor. This healthy skepticism increases when readers see the author refer to local grassroots environmental leaders as anti-fracking groups and anti-fracking opponents, clearly less presitgious than the descriptor, “environmental leaders.”

Despite the targeted use of “environmental leaders” to subtly buttress the bias of this article, the author, perhaps unwittingly, ends the article with a quote from one of the attorneys of these “environmental leaders”, specifically NRDC, which highlights the disconnection of these so-called “environmental leaders” from the will and efforts of grassroots environmental leadership. To wit, “At this point we’re not really willing to tolerate any weakening of this bill.” In other words, per Ms. Alexander, at another point in time, NRDC will be somewhat-to-very willing to tolerate weakening.

With evidence of captured “environmental leaders” like NRDC, potential donors might want to invest elsewhere.

By H James on Feb 22, 2013

From Stop the Frack Attack On IL
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Stop-the-Frack-Attack-On-Illinois/

ENVIRONMENTALISTS CALL FRACKING REGULATORY BILL” PREMATURE, INSUFFICIENT, UNENFORCEABLE AND A THREAT TO THE PLANET!”

The Chicago-based grassroots environmental group, Stop the Frack Attack On IL, today issued an immediate response to Gov. Quinn’s endorsement of the fracking regulatory bill introduced into the legislature on Thursday. The group charges that the Governor is completely ignoring the science that shows that high volume, high pressure, horizontal hydro-fracking releases dangerously high amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. They are asking the Gov. and IL lawmakers to slow this fracking down and look at the science before they make any decision about allowing fracking to move forward in IL. They are supporting, instead, a moratorium on fracking and a 2 year science-based investigative task force.

”Frack gas,” the term applied to gas obtained by fracking, “is not the bridge fuel that it has been touted to be”, points out Dr. Lora Chamberlain, spokesperson for the group. “A recent NOAA report reveals that the agency found a 4%, and in some cases up to 9%, leakage, of methane at well sites. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, far more so than CO2, so any claim for frack gas being ‘cleaner than coal’ is offset by the leakage of methane and the industry does not know how to stop it completely. Well casings leak and this new regulatory bill has not proven how it will stop the leakage over time from possibly thousands of wells!”

In the regulatory bill the industry is encouraged to capture this gas, if it is not an economic hardship. “Oh really”, says Dr. Chamberlain. “So let’s get this straight, our planet, hanging on the brink of environmental catastrophe is not worth exerting a little more pressure than weak encouragement over the natural gas industry? Many of us, sincere environmentalists, are shaking our heads in disbelief over this cavalier attitude towards our Climate Crisis! We must stop burning carbon for our energy and invest in renewable energy immediately. It is the best way to bring jobs and clean energy to our state. It is the only path that will lead us to a livable planet for the billions who are co-habitating with us on this small but beautiful chunk of rock”.

Fracking was made infamous in the recent documentary “Gasland” by filmmaker Josh Fox, which shows tap water lighting on fire from the methane and other gases that had been released into the water from the fracking process. “Water contamination is a real issue with fracking”, per Dr. Chamberlain, “and although this bill require testing for contamination, we still have to ask the Governor, since we are in a permanent semi-drought condition in IL according to the climate scientists, where are the residents of Southern and Central IL going to get their water if and when the natural gas industry contaminates their wells and aquifers? All of the fines, regulations and litigation in the world can not create clean fresh water out of poisoned water. We are asking the Gov to consider seriously how precious our water is to life and our food system. Please look at the science around fracking very carefully!”

Instead of a regulatory bill, which the group maintains is premature, insufficient and unenforceable, the group supports SB1418, which calls for a moratorium and independent science-based task force to study all the factors and access the consequences of allowing fracking in Illinois.

The regulatory bill, HB2615, has gained the support of a number of state legislators, who have been given promises by the industry of jobs. Gov. Quinn cited jobs as a major benefit to come from the fracking industry. The members of Stop the Frack Attack On IL maintain that these are bogus claims. According to a report by the national environmental organization Food & Water Watch there have been on average only 1.7 jobs per well and one of these typically goes to an out of state professional and not to a local person. Gov. Kesich of Ohio is reported to have complained that the financial benefits of fracking to his state have not materialized. Instead, communities find themselves burdened with additional infrastructure costs for heavy truck traffic, up to 1000 or more runs per day, to service the wellpads. The long term economic, environmental and health costs far outweigh any short term benefit, that the industry claims. Renewable energy has been shown to be a job creator, however, but those jobs are clean and green.

The group points to huge problems that have occurred in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado where residents living near wells have developed serious illnesses, including cancer, neurological diseases, and asthma. Their wells have been contaminated and farmers have lost livestock due to contaminated water. Dr. Chamberlain asks, “Who is going to pay for all of the resultant health care needs of these Illinois residents who are exposed to polluted air and water due to fracking–the State! Gov. Quinn and IL lawmakers, please do not be penny wise and dollar silly on this fracking issue, the stakes are too high.”

The group maintains that regulations will not be able to adequately protect the citizens and environment of Illinois. They point out that at 2-7 million gallons of water needed per frack, and a single well being fracked up to 18 times, multiplied by all of the thousands of potential wells, the industry could require a trillion gallons of water to frack IL. There might not be enough water in all of Southern Illinois to frack these wells. The group is asking Gov. Quinn and IL lawmakers to do the terrifying math on this fracking before they allow the industry to frack us.

In addition, they point out that the state regulatory agencies do not have sufficient resources to monitor all the wells. There are still hundreds of old oil and gas wells that have not been adequately capped. Why would we expect that the IDNR will do any better job with the new frack wells, when they have done such a poor job with the old oil and gas wells!

It is acknowledged that a regulatory bill cannot change the fact that Southern Illinois sits on the New Madrid and Wabash faults, some of the most unstable in the entire country. Fracking and use of injection wells for disposal of the toxic fracking waste water have been shown by the USGS to have caused earthquakes in Ohio, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Dr. Chamberlain asks, “Gov. Quinn and IL lawmakers, don’t you want to study this issue carefully with the geologists before you approve a technology that can trigger earthquakes? It is your job to protect the lives of Illinois residents, all we are asking you to do is to do your job!”

The bill is the culmination of a series of negotiations with legislators and representatives of a very few environmental groups. “These negotiations have been going on behind closed doors, “ says Dr. Lora Chamberlain. “This issue affects all the people of the state. There should be open hearings and public participation before jumping into this decision. New York State has had a moratorium for 4 1/2 years, while they investigated this process very carefully and they still have not decided to move forward with fracking. Illinois residents deserve the same due diligence from their elected officials!”

“Governor Quinn and IL lawmakers, support for fracking is doing nothing for the environment and nothing to halt global climate change,” the group protests. Instead, they are calling on the Governor and Springfield to support a moratorium on fracking and a science based investigative task force and investments in renewable, carbon free energy development such as wind, solar and geothermal. Our clean, green energy future is needed now!

By Dr. Lora Chamberlain on Feb 22, 2013

It’s disturbing that the big green environmental groups are negotiating with industry and government on regulations. Their cooperation is being used to justify opening up the state for fracking. In reality, local groups and many of the smaller grassroots environmental groups are firmly against this practice. From what I’ve seen in other states that have hydraulic fracking, it will be hard if not impossible to regulate this industry. In a state that suffered from a crippling drought last year, it is unconscionable for us roll out the red carpet for an industry that will use so much of our precious clean water & contaminate it. I have to wonder if the big green groups are doing more harm than good in this situation. What would happen if they grew a backbone and actually came out against this practice and supported a ban or moratorium? We need to advocate for what we think is right and what is best for our air and water according to the current science, and not what we think is currently politically feasible. If we did this, I think we’d have a better chance at stopping this dangerous practice before it started. We ALL need to “flip the script” and advocate for clean energy from the sun and the wind and energy conservation rather than dirty fossil fuels. It’s the only way we’ll have a fighting chance.

By Angie Viands on Feb 22, 2013