by Whitney Pitcher
Over the last week, I’ve posted a few posts on the AGU/O4P Illinois4Palin page on some state legislation that is being discussed in Springfield right now-namely conceal and carry and pension reform. Additionally, our state is considering legislation outlining regulation of fracking. While the regulation is very strict, it is a far cry from a New York like moratorium. I wanted to share this post here because, if passed, it may be one of the few bright spots in our mess of a state. It would allow the creation of thousands of jobs in southern Illinois, an area of the state politicians too often ignore. Imagine that; energy development and economic improvement going hand-in-hand? Sounds familiar.
Illinois often doesn’t seem to produce much more than corrupt politicians,but behind the graft and crime, Illinois ranks 11th in energy production in the country. According to the Energy Information Administration, Illinois produces more nuclear energy and ethanol than any other state in the country. Beyond the reactors and car booze, Illinois runs in the middle of the pack (twenty-sixth) when it comes to development of natural gas. That could change with the new technology that is booming in places like Texas and Pennsylvania –fracking.
In December, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce released a study indicating that fracking for natural gas could has much as a nearly ten billion dollar economic impact and bring tens of thousands of jobs to southern Illinois. Fracking has yet to be even tested in the New Albany shale of southern Illinois, but the Chamber hopes that their research will provide the necessary impetus to move things forward legislatively. The study evaluated drilling costs, but not specifically the cost of regulations, royalties or taxes, nor did it assess any oil that may be present in the shale.
A few months ago, a southern Illinois Democratic legislator, energy developers, and environmental groups sat down to draft a plan that would aim to appease all involved:
After years of clashing over the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the oil industry and environmentalists have achieved something extraordinary in Illinois: They sat down together to draft regulations both sides could live with.
If approved by lawmakers, participants say, the rules would be the nation’s strictest. The Illinois model might also offer a template to other states seeking to carve out a middle ground between energy companies that would like free rein and environmental groups that want to ban the practice entirely.
The Natural Resources Defense Council supported a failed attempt at a fracking moratorium last year. So with lawmakers clearly ready to allow fracking in southern Illinois, the NRDC wanted to ensure there were significant safeguards, including making drillers liable for water pollution, requiring them to disclose the chemicals used and enabling residents to sue for damages.
“One of the positive things here has been the table to which a wide range of interests have come … to address the risks in an adult way,” said Henry Henderson, director of the NRDC’s Midwest office. “We have gotten over the frustrating chasm of ‘Are you for the environment or for the economy?’ That is an empty staring contest.”
Negotiations took place over four or five months, primarily at the Statehouse in meetings led by state Rep. John Bradley, a Democrat who lives in the area where fracking would occur, participants said.
Bradley whittled negotiators down to a core group — four from industry, four from environmental groups, plus representatives from the attorney general’s and governor’s offices, regulatory agencies and lawmakers, said Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.
That group was pared even further for the toughest negotiations, which included discussions with outside technical experts on complicated issues, said Ann Alexander, an NRDC senior attorney.
“I won’t say there weren’t times that voices got raised a little bit, but … it’s a very good model of cooperation,” Alexander said. “It beats the (typical) model of having drafts furtively circulating … or emerging at the last minute when nobody has had a chance to read them.”
A bill with robust bipartisan support is currently being discussed in committee the Illinois House. The bill has extensive regulatory provisions on permitting , environmental restrictions and liability, and transparency of development. Governor Quinn has even voiced is support for fracking in his budget speech onWednesday.
The bill still needs to pass through committee, the House as a whole, and the Senate before arriving at the Governor’s desk. To be sure, the bill does includes rather strict regulation that will impact producers. However, it has the potential to produce clean natural gas and provide jobs for many–something that states like with fracking moratoriums, like New York, have yet to do. For a state known for ineptness, this could be a small step in the right direction.