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Business coalition opposes fracking rules as an 'overreach'

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SPRINGFIELD – Even though it could further delay the launch of hydraulic fracturing in Illinois, a coalition of business and labor groups wants the Quinn administration to redraft rules regulating the controversial oil and gas drilling process, known as fracking.

Representatives of the GROW-IL coalition told reporters Tuesday that the recently released rules written by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stray too far from the original law regulating hydraulic fracturing, potentially limiting the success of companies seeking to extract oil and gas from beneath the ground.

"After waiting 438 days for the IDNR while they delayed the opportunity for significant revenue and job creation for all those months, what we finally received are proposals that represent an egregious overreach by the agency," said Mark Denzler of the Illinois Manufacturers Association.

The call for a redo comes less than a week before a bipartisan legislative panel is set to begin reviewing the new rules to ensure they match up with the intent of the law approved last year by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

In particular, the coalition said the agency added eight new criteria that must be met for a fracking permit to be issued, including one that was rejected when the law was being negotiated, Denzler said.

In another instance, the group said the new rules altered the standards for approving specific types of drilling operations.

And, the group dislikes a proposal regarding water testing on private wells or ponds.

"A lot of compromises had to be made," Denzler said.

"The industry is not crying wolf here," added Tom Wolf of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Supporters of fracking say Illinois could see a boom in oil and gas production if the state allows drillers to duplicate what has happened in North Dakota, where fracking has triggered an increase in jobs and revenue.

"We're not talking about just a few jobs at stake: We are projecting up to 47,000 new jobs, and those positions will fill a massive void of opportunity in Southern Illinois," said Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan of Decatur. "We have a very skilled work force of men and women who desperately need to get back to work."

The group wants the agency to redraft the rules and return to the panel in October, hoping to beat a Nov. 15 deadline that would restart the clock on the rule-making process.

Opponents say fracking will hurt the environment and pollute water supplies.

"We believe that fracking is inherently dangerous and cannot be made safe with regulations," notes a joint statement from the Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment and Illinois People's Action.

SAFE spokeswoman Annette McMichael said anti-fracking organizations are discussing their strategy for whether to pursue a rejection of the rules or a ban or moratorium on all fracking activity in Illinois.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|(217) 782-4043

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