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Industry, environmentalists mull 'fracking' rules
CHICAGO (AP) — Leases have been signed on tens of thousands of acres in southern Illinois. Studies have hinted at the potential economic payoff of drilling for oil and gas deposits deep underground. But so far, oil and gas companies have held off on high-volume hydraulic fracturing in Illinois because the state lacks ground rules for the industry.
That could change under a regulatory bill being negotiated by officials from industry and agriculture, environmentalists, lawmakers and Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The bill, which would address everything from chemical disclosure to air and water pollution, could be introduced as soon as this week if the parties agree on the final language.
"From an industry perspective, they're not going to invest millions of dollars in Illinois if they don't know the regulations," said Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, which joined petroleum and transportation advocates and unions to form a coalition pushing for fracking regulations.
Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack open thick rock formations and release trapped oil and gas. Combined with horizontal drilling, it allows access to formerly out-of-reach deposits — and has opened large swaths of the country for exploration, most notably in states such as Pennsylvania and North Dakota. The industry — which is eyeing the New Albany Shale formation that lies under southern Illinois and parts of Indiana and Kentucky — insists the method is safe and could create thousands of jobs.
But critics claim it contaminates air and water, could deplete water resources needed for agriculture and other uses, and would leave Illinois communities with no control over the practice.
"This is literally our land and our water and our lives on the line," said Liz Patula, a Williamson County resident who belongs to Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, a group of farmers, land owners and others who favor a 2-year moratorium on fracking to allow a task force to study safety issues and evaluate best practices. Sen. Mattie Hunter, a Chicago Democrat, already has introduced a bill calling for a moratorium, which is supported by some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.
Patula said there is no reason for Illinois to rush into fracking without carefully studying implications for the environment, jobs, agriculture and tourism. She said she fears the industry could be "a boom and bust" for Illinois that would import workers from other states, then move on while leaving the state with long-term problems.
"What about farming and tourism? They could take serious hit from this," said Patula. "Would it really create cheaper energy for Illinois and for how long? Why not invest in industries that can bring energy here forever and not put families out of their homes?"
While industry and environmentalists don't often work on legislation together — especially on something as contentious as fracking — momentum is building for fracking in Illinois and it was wise for everyone to be at the table to establish regulations, those involved in the discussions said.
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