CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois would have the strictest regulations for high-volume oil and gas drilling in the nation under a proposal introduced Thursday and drafted with help from industry and environmentalists — an unusual collaboration when it comes to a practice intensely scrutinized over claims it can cause pollution and health problems.
The Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act would require oil and gas companies to test water before, during and after drilling, and hold them liable if contamination was found after drilling began. It also would require companies to disclose the chemicals used in the process and control air pollution, as well as provide for public hearings and allow residents to sue if they believed they had been harmed.
Such provisions are uncommon in states where hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," happens, and Illinois would be the first to require so many, environmental and industry officials said.
"This is a situation where Illinois really is leading the way," said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest program, who participated in negotiations. "We hope we are setting a floor for others to be able to build on (because) there is very much a gold rush mentality."
Allen Grosboll, co-legislative director at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said it's likely the measure will pass the Legislature because of the unusual negotiations between industry, environmentalists, lawmakers, regulatory agencies and Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
"One of the more stunning aspects of this is legislation is that (lawmakers) invited the environmental community and industry to the table and, in more than five months of negotiations (produced) what I think is the most comprehensive fracking bill in country," Grosboll said.
Fracking uses a high-pressure mixture of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack and hold open thick rock formations, releasing trapped oil and gas. Combined with horizontal drilling, it allows access to formerly out-of-reach deposits. The industry — which is eyeing the New Albany Shale formation in southern Illinois — insists the method is safe and could create thousands of jobs.
Critics are urging lawmakers instead to support a 2-year moratorium on the practice to study scientific evidence surrounding contamination and potential health effects, as well as the impact on water supplies.