Last spring, legislators, environmentalists and the oil industry worked hard to approve legislation that would allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Illinois.
The coalition may be falling apart over the rules that will implement the new law. That’s a bad sign, since the Illinois law would have allowed the harvest of much-needed oil, created jobs and boosted the economy, while also putting in reasonable protections for the environment.
After the legislation was approved, it fell to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to write the rules that would implement the broad design of the legislation. Those rules have been the subject of much scrutiny and debate over the last few months. Several public hearings were held across the state, including one in Decatur.
The rules may indeed need some work. There are legitimate concerns that some of the wording is maybe a little too loose and there may be some loopholes that need to be tightened. That’s what the process is all about.
But some environmental groups and others appear to be attempting to derail the entire legislation, even calling for a moratorium on fracking in the state. That would be a mistake.
There is a substantial amount at risk. Almost all of the fracking will occur in Southern Illinois. A coalition of business and industry groups says the industry could bring up to 70,000 jobs to the region. That includes not only jobs in the oil industry, but also in trucking, steel production, chemical production and other areas. Job projections are always hard to pin down, but Illinois does have the second highest unemployment rate in the nation.
The rules, which will be rewritten by the DNR after the comment period ends in a few weeks, are crucial. There are concerns are both sides with the current edition of the rules.
For example, the Illinois law requires drillers to store wastewater in tanks rather than open pits. But exceptions are permitted in an emergency and some of the environmentalists argue – with good reason – that the provisions for an emergency may to broad.
On the other side, the law says that before a fracking operation can begin, a public hearing may be requested. The industry wants a definition of who can request a hearing so that fracking opponents from other states can’t request a hearing.
It’s important that the rules be well-balanced. Everyone wants reasonable protections for the environment. But if the rules are too restrictive, the drillers will simply pick up and move elsewhere. Many states that already allow fracking are enjoying a jobs and economic boom because of the industry.
While the rules process continues, we think it’s important to echo the words of Illinois DNR spokesman Chris McCloud. He said the comments on the rules will help the agency improve the process, but the legislation will not be undone.
``The law is the law,’’ he said. ``And it says hydraulic fracturing is going to be allowed in Illinois.’’
Hopefully those involved in getting the compromise legislation approved last spring can take the same attitude in making sure the rules work for everyone.