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Fracking in Illinois: Starting with Standards

Henry Henderson

Posted February 21, 2013

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Illinois has the potential to be the next state washed over in the fracking wave moving across the country. That could be a big problem as companies are buying up mineral rights in many counties, even though the state has virtually no rules on the books to protect communities and the environment from this controversial extraction process. Since everyone recognizes this lack of standards is a huge problem, efforts have been underway to get protections in place---elected officials, enviros, industry and community groups have been negotiating rules for many months now. And today, we have the results, with the introduction of a proposed fracking bill.

HB 2615 was rolled out in Springfield this morning. While far from perfect, as written the bill is hugely important to start putting protections for Illinois communities and our economies in place right now. In particular, the bill provides many critical protections that are lacking in other states’ piecemeal fracking rules. And as composed now, it would create new, stronger model standards here that could drive future debates about fracking in other states, and set a higher floor for any future federal fracking rules. These are important protections that legislators must fight to preserve.

The bill addresses an array of important issues raised by the arrival of the new combination of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to Illinois. While it is not perfect (did I mention that?), it represents the strongest state fracking rules we have seen to-date. However, there are a number of complex issues related to fracking that will require separate consideration in the future. For example, the state’s existing Oil & Gas Act is in desperate need of reform to address local communities’ rights to regulate fracking, as well as the Act’s provisions allowing unwilling property owners to be forced to lease their mineral rights for drilling.  NRDC fully supports updates in these areas and we intend to advocate aggressively for them.

Whether it is today or a few years from now, the regulatory process will move forward. We felt it essential to engage in the process to fight for robust, scientifically-based standards to protect our communities, and to preserve the public’s voice in the permitting and enforcement process. Fortunately, the General Assembly has been thoughtful and responsible in that process, making our continued engagement possible.

But our overall position on fracking has not changed: unless and until we have strong, protective safeguards on the books, we should not start fracking in Illinois. Certainly, plenty can happen between this point and the Governor’s desk, so while we are encouraged by what is currently in the bill (check my colleague Ann Alexander’s blog for a rundown of the technical issues addressed in the bill that has been introduced), we will remain vigilant for any weakening of the standards. A watered down version of the bill as it stands today might point to the need for other options in the Land of Lincoln.

NRDC is working to transition as quickly as possible to a clean energy future based on energy efficiency and renewable energy, but as long as we have to have dirty fossil fuels, our communities need the strongest rules in place. Those rules are only as good as their enforcement, which needs to be robust and strict. And that is another issue that we will be following if this bill moves forward.

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Protect Southern IllinoisFeb 21 2013 05:18 PM

How could NRDC support a bill that doesn't give local communities the right to protect themselves with their own laws on drilling? I thought that is what NRDC was fighting for in New York. Does NRDC not think we should have the same rights in Southern Illinois? Is it because we don't give NRDC enough money?

Michael BerndtsonFeb 22 2013 12:40 PM

An interesting article from AAPG Explorer dated March 2010: "An eye toward broader application Illinois Basin Shale Gets Tech Focus"

The article from the American Association of Petroleum Geologist (AAPG) covers the technical issues associated with shale gas fracking and the uniqueness of each play - not environmental impacts. Here's something from the article I found very interesting:

"Production is primarily from natural fractures, and production in commercial quantities requires proper placement of horizontal wells relative to dominant fracture orientation. Owing to the extremely low matrix permeability and limited open natural fractures, interconnecting the fractures via hydraulic fracture stimulation is a must."

And goes on to say....

"This can be a tedious task given that the New Albany is underlain by water-bearing Devonian rocks in some areas. Care must be taken to prevent the fractures from growing into the water-bearing zone."

I guess my question is this...did the NRDC and other environmental groups work with the Gas Research Institute (GRI) to get up to speed on the technical issues associated with fracking the Illinois Basin New Albany Shale and apply this information towards environmental protection of land, water and air?

Probably something to seriously consider is the limited gas production from the New Albany play. I believe O&G is mainly interested in liquid hydrocarbons. So hey, since Alberta oil sands bitumen is already flowing into Joliet and Whiting refineries - why not simply cut it with New Albany liquids. Pipeliners are already looking into reversing the flow of one of the largest pipelines in the US to take nat. gas liquids from Illinois up to Alberta.

Here's an interesting article from Oil and Gas Investments Bulletin supporting my statement above:

"Pipeline flows aren’t just being changed—so are the commodities that flow inside them!

Condensate flows are also being affected by shifting supply. Kinder Morgan plans to reverse its Cochin pipeline flow between Kankakee County Illinois and facilities near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.

The plan would also involve changing the commodity. Now it ships propane from Canada to the US. Soon it will flow to condensate from the U.S. to Canada—because Canada needs it to dilute the fast-growing heavy oil production out of the oilsands."

In conclusion....

For some reason I'm getting a horrible sinking feeling about this - and that NRDC is either way out of its depth - or its mission is to promote oil and gas exploitation for the ghost of John D. Rockefeller.

Lora ChamberalinFeb 28 2013 06:43 PM

NRDC knew full well that the grass roots environmentalists in IL wanted and were working very hard for a moratorium on fracking and a public investigative task force and not some compromised regulatory bill, full of holes!
NRDC turned their back on the grass roots groups, there is just no other way to understand this situation here in IL. They can "say" that they were reading political tea leaves or how ever they want to "fib" about it, but in reality Madigan needed political cover by having the NRDC and the Big Greens in the negotiating room with the industry! Madigan said "jump" and NRDC said, "how high?". If NRDC and the other Big Greens would have said "NO" to Madigan, that they were going for a moratorium on fracking with an investigative task force and they would not give Madigan any "Green Cover", and that they highly recommended that the Speaker do the right thing for Illinois and have a public process around this issue. If NRDC would have had the kahunas to stick with the grassroots environmental groups, we could be talking about 2/3rds of the Reps and Sens signed onto a moratorium by now!
Yes the industry would have been pissed, and yes some of the Southern Illinois Reps and Sens who are going to personally profit from fracking would be po-ed, (listen folks the corruption in Illinois must stop, these Reps and Sens should be recusing themselves if they are personally profiting from their votes in the GA, that is insider trading to the max and should be illegal!) But the Big Greens are not supposed to care about the hurt feelings of the industry! I wonder what they really do care about, could it be big donors--you just got to wonder? The Big Greens certainly do not care about the feelings of the grass roots environmental groups, that is for sure, we are still fighting out here for a moratorium, which is what we wanted all along!
We, who followed these regulatory talks closely, knew that just having a growing call for a moratorium out in the public eye, kept the investors away from IL! This was a good thing, keep the investors out and slow this fracking down! With a public investigative task force we could have found out all of the technical issues of drilling here in our shale. We could have been far more specific in our demands of the industry. We, the public, could have found out our real seismic risks and figured out whether drilling in some places is not worth those risks. We could have found out if there were new technologies coming down the pike which would circumvent the need for many of these poisons in the frack water or even low hydro techniques. We could have slowed this down and fed the mother of all inventions--necessity! Creating an economic need for the industry to evolve. But NO none of that will happen here in IL---because of NRDC's hubris!
My question is this, who made NRDC the King of fracking here in Illinois? I did not get a vote! Listening to NRDC's excuses just rots my socks!
Basically NRDC and the Big Greens decided not to fight for the moratorium because Madigan didn't want the moratorium and the Big Greens do not know how to fight, all they know how to do is kowtow! Their relationship with Madigan seems more important than our water, our children, our forests, our land and our Starved Rock .
So Southern and Central Illinoisans when the industry purposely cuts corners and evades these lousy regulations and the first blowout happens or the first poisoning of your lakes or streams---come running to the offices of the NRDC because they are the ones who sold you out!
Of course on your way to the NRDC, stop at the offices of your Illinois Reps and Sens, the AG and the Gov who are supposed to be doing their due diligence and keeping you safe, but who instead gave up their responsibility to NRDC, show them your disgust as well!
That is it, not one more dime to NRDC or any of Big Greens, they wouldn't know how to fight the good fight if it fell in their laps, which is exactly what happened with this fracking issue here in IL!

Henry HendersonMar 1 2013 07:09 PM

Thanks for your passionate comments reflecting deep concern about the safety and well-being of our communities.

Our work in Illinois is focused on addressing the total lack of standards and structures to address the identified risks associated with fracking in this state. Presently, there are no regulations to address the risks of fracking. None. Clearly, there is much to be done to address this "Wild West" situation. As we have done with advancing federal laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, to assure that the laws are in place, enforced, and empower citizens are to protect their interests, we are working to establish clear rules and processes in the state to address fracking and other oil and gas activities. We agree that there is much to do and that the staus quo leaves us all in harm's way. The task of restoring the role of citizens and communities in the process is a front line goal---as no kings or other royalty can be trusted to defend the public interest. Your passionate commitment to this issue and the challenegs that face our community is clear and vital. Let us move forward together.

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