Illinois lawmakers push for hydraulic fracturing restrictions

February 1, 2012

The Associated Press

Two state lawmakers in Illinois are promoting legislation to restrict hydraulic fracturing, a process used by the energy industry to free oil and gas from rock that has drawn concern from environmentalists nationwide.

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson has introduced two bills on the issue, including one that would prohibit the practice on state lands such as parks, forests, natural areas and wetlands, The News-Gazette in Champaign reported Wednesday. The second would require owners and operators of fracturing equipment to disclose all chemicals used in the process.

Environmentalists worry the chemicals could leak into supplies of drinking water from cracked casings in wells, and that wastewater from the process could contaminate water supplies.

Democratic state Sen. Mike Frerichs says he will reintroduce similar legislation that stalled in the House last year, the newspaper reported.

Jakobsson said it was important to have restrictions in place before the practice becomes more common inIllinois.

"We really think that if we're going to have fracking in Illinois — and it's probably coming — that the people should know what's put down in these wells, and that the integrity of the casing should be good and that there should be disclosure," Jakobsson said.

In hydraulic fracturing, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into wells to break up underground rock formations and create escape routes for oil and gas. In recent years, the industry combined the practice with the ability to drill horizontally into beds of shale.

By doing so, drillers have unlocked natural gas deposits across the East, South and Midwest that are large enough to supply the U.S. for decades. Natural gas prices have dipped to decade-low levels, reducing customer bills and prompting manufacturers who depend on the fuel to expand operations in the United States.

Acting on the concerns of environmentalists, some states like New York have banned the practice altogether.

Energy industry spokesman Brad Richards said it would work with Jakobsson to come up with a compromise on the bill requiring disclosure of the chemicals used. But he said prohibiting the process on state lands had "absolutely no justification."

He pointed to a project in which a horizontal well was drilled beneath Stephen A. Forbes State Park in Marion County from neighboring private land.

"It's the largest well ever drilled in Illinois," said Richards, executive vice president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association. "It's made millions of dollars for mineral owners, including the state of Illinois. And there is absolutely no footprint on the state park."

"This ban on hydraulic fracturing could potentially be a ban on any future activity of that type," he said.

Jakobsson's bills were scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the House Energy and Environmental Committee, although she said it was likely the hearing would be postponed.