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Illinois Legislators Should Heed These Voices on Fracking

Henry Henderson

Posted March 1, 2013

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Last week a fracking bill came out of the Illinois General Assembly that got a lot of attention. This week I got a look at a video that reminds me why it was so important for so many people and why we have devoted so much energy to this process.

It’s footage from an NRDC staff visit to western Pennsylvania where my colleagues heard the difficult stories of victims of fracking’s impacts on their water, property values, health and overall quality of life. In Illinois, we need to learn the hard lessons from states that did not have strong protections in place before the oil and gas companies moved in. Nobody wants to see a repeat of the unfortunate experiences like these:

The state would be wise to hold off on moving forward with fracking altogether until it has conducted a full analysis of the health risks, and has in place the legal structures and standards to better protect Illinoisans from them. But the reality is that the process is moving forward quickly. Despite the fact that no rules to govern fracking are on the books right now, a rush to lease drilling rights is already raging in portions of the state. So, with rules that would govern fracking currently speeding through the state legislature, NRDC, Sierra Club, Faith in Place, IEC, ELPC, and a bevy of other groups felt it was important to jump in to ensure that protections will be as strong as possible to protect communities. It was essential to use this opportunity as a last line of defense to take what immediate action we could to protect our communities, environment and economy.

While the bill that was negotiated is not perfect, it stands as the strongest fracking protections that we have seen to date, offering critical safeguards that do not otherwise exist yet, including strong well construction standards, provisions to allow citizen suits, important chemical disclosure rules and limits on air pollution impacts. These can provide a solid start for us to build on.

But this bill does not have all the requirements that NRDC thinks are needed to best protect the public from the harms of oil and gas activities. Legislators need to do more work over time to address remaining shortfalls in Illinois’ regulatory system. Citizens deserve stronger protections for their communities and the environment before fracking moves forward in Illinois.

As part of NRDC’s ongoing work to prevent oil and gas companies from running roughshod across communities nationwide, we will heed the warnings of our neighbors in Pennsylvania by continuing to fight for sufficient safeguards. That work is not done, but the new bill is a good start

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Stan ScobieMar 2 2013 08:23 PM

Could you comment on how likely what you perceive as the strengths of the proposed legislation will survive the sausage factory of the legislative and administrative processes.

I say this in part in the context of the huge disappointment that EDF had when the TX disclosure legislation they worked on was eviscerated and came out badly.


Stan Scobie, Senior Fellow, PSE Healthy Energy, Binghamton, NY

Henry HendersonMar 3 2013 03:01 PM

Thank you for the comment.

There is a long legislative road ahead, both through the Illinois House and then the Senate.
It is necessary for our broad-based coalition that has worked on the bill to date to stay very engaged in the process in order to keep the strong technical standards and assurance of fcitizen particiaption in permit decisions and enforcement.

As Mr. Scobie notes, there are powerful national forces at work in the debate over fracking in America who are interested in keeping to a shocking bare minimum the common sense standards necessary to address know risks, provide citizens with real and critical information about what is being injected into their property, and who are aggressively advocating for limits on citizen participation and access to the courts to defend the public interest. Consider the situation in some states where citizens cannot challenge the issuance of permits, while industry is allowed to challenge any permit denial or condition it considers irritating.

We need to keep the fundamental values of science-based decision making, technological innovation and the democratic principle of citizen participation in self governance in the forefront of the process in Illinois.

We have a strong, multi-sector coalition working well together in Illinois, with progressive buisness, civic and community participants, and strong supporters in the House, Senate and Governor's office, working to keep the frame work intact. The prospect is good for establishing a solid base, and then moving forward to address additional public interest issues in oil and gas activities in the state.

Michael BerndtsonMar 4 2013 11:26 AM

Here's an interesting article from Desmog Blog on the subject:

"ALEC Sham Chemical Disclosure Model Tucked Into Illinois Fracking Bill"

From the article under the heading titled: "Bill Endorsed by Sierra Club/NRDC :"

"No concerns are raised about Section 25 of the bill dealing with setbacks and prohibitions.
This section lends the industry the ability to conduct fracking operations within 1,500 feet of groundwater sources and 500 feet of schools, houses, hospitals, nursing homes, and places of worship. It also enables the industry to frack within 300 feet of rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs.
These regulations do not take into account the fact that the horizontal drilling portion of the fracking process extends between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. The sobering reality: none of these things would be protected under this bill's current language.
Sierra Club, which came under fire last year for taking $26 million from gas giant Chesapeake Energy to fight against coal, sang a similar tune."

I said this before and I'll say it again - the Illinois Basin seems mostly about oil and natural gas liquids. Gas is apparently not the main driver for the New Albany like the Marcellus. Nat gas liquids will probably be used as diluent for Alberta tar sands already being piped to Joliet and Whiting.

A concern of mine is that once this shale gas fracking legislation gets money bagged through Illinois - the groundwork will have been laid for in situ coal retorting - the big fossil fuel bonanza in Illinois.

Josh MogermanMar 4 2013 11:29 AM


We are aware of that article and have reached out to DeSmog Blog to let them know that we think they got a lot of things wrong in it. While they quote Switchboard, they did not reach out to NRDC for comment.

Josh MogermanMar 4 2013 11:33 AM


Also worth noting, we love DeSmog Blog. Its a strong and important site. But we think they got this post wrong.

Michael BerndtsonMar 4 2013 12:01 PM

Desmog blog is persnickety at best and silly at worst. Hold their feet to the fire and try to get a reply. I'm slightly jaded and have little faith in Chicago politics and even less in Springfield. Then again I can't think of living anywhere else - with all those big shoulders, cobs of corn, and rivers flowing.

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