Yesterday in Springfield, IEC and many of our lead affiliate organizations, Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and Faith in Place signed on to support HB 2615, a bill that establishes the most stringent regulations on high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the country.  Because the environmental community is deeply concerned about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, the respective decision by each organization to support this legislation was not made lightly.  In this letter, I review the decision process to support the legislation and summarize the bill’s components.

For more than two years, environmental groups have been working to pass either a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing or tough regulatory laws.  Faith in Place initiated this effort in 2011 when it worked with State Senator Michael Frerichs and Representative Naomi Jakobsson to introduce the first bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing.  Reverend Clare Butterfield of Faith in Place supported the bill in a statement of thanks to the organization’s members, “This bill is the strongest regulatory effort by any state to date, and we support it, knowing that it couldn’t have been achieved without all those cards, calls and visits by members of the faith community over the years, and a powerful partnership among our brothers and sisters at other environmental organizations who share our commitment to a just and sustainable future.”

The situation in Illinois is especially perilous, as we know that thousands of acres within the state’s boundaries are being purchased by oil and gas interests and current Illinois laws are entirely inadequate to regulate hydraulic fracturing activities.  At the end of the 2012 spring legislative session, we had been unable to pass a moratorium or even minimum regulations.  Not only were environmental leaders upset but so too were the Attorney General’s Office and agencies under the Governor, including the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  Concern about the failure of the legislature to act and the expectant start of hydraulic fracturing in Illinois resulted in Speaker Madigan and others in the Illinois House creating a working committee to begin drafting a meaningful regulatory framework.

Representative John Bradley invited four people from oil and gas interests and four people from the environmental community to participate in the process.  At that point, environmental organizations had to decide whether to reject the process or join the negotiators at the table.  The decision was made to participate and attempt to draft the toughest possible regulatory structure.  Our interests were represented at the negotiating table by ELPC, Environment Illinois, Faith in Place and NRDC.  It is unprecedented for the environmental community to be invited to the negotiating table and given such a strong voice, and we believe it would have been irresponsible for environmentalists to walk away and allow the business community to draft the needed regulations.

From the beginning, environmentalists made clear their desire for more time before fracking begins in Illinois.  There is still much we do not know and we should take time to do the necessary research and studies.  It was clear, though, that legislators were intent on passing a fracking regulatory bill and that we needed to aggressively push for the best standards and available technology.

The negotiations began in October and continued until yesterday morning.  Hundreds of hours were dedicated to the legislative negotiations and countless issues were tackled.  The result is a bill that can be fairly characterized as the most comprehensive fracking legislation in the nation.  It includes ground-breaking provisions to protect water quality and public access to information about proposed fracking plans.  While environmentalists did not get everything we wanted in the bill, it does include much of what we believe is needed to protect water quality and public health and safety.

An example of what is not adequate in the bill is local control.  While current local regulatory abilities were not weakened in any way by this bill, the environmental community still advocated for greater local control or more local involvement over the siting of fracking operations.  We argued to the end for greater local involvement but ultimately the legislators decided that these decisions belong under the authority of the state.  We did, however, get extensive language to ensure public access to records, public involvement in the permitting process and citizen rights to take legal action.

While this legislation is not a moratorium, it should be clear that HB 2615 is significantly tougher than any other legislation previously introduced in the Illinois legislature.  It also includes provisions that are tougher than language found in other states.  Among the bill’s provisions are the following: (Much thanks to Ann Alexander of NRDC and Jenny Cassel of ELPC for this summary).

  • Strong well construction standards to prevent leakage found in other states
  • Storage of waste water in closed-loop tanks rather than open pits
  • Pre-fracking testing of ground and surface water and subsequent water monitoring
  • Presumption of liability should subsequent water testing show contamination
  • Robust opportunities for public participation in the fracking permitting process
  • Ability of citizens to appeal permits
  • Ability of citizens to enforce the law through citizen suits
  • Ban on injecting diesel compounds
  • Very strong chemical disclosure provisions, including both pre and post-fracking disclosure
  • Trade secret information must be made available to health professionals and no limit on who can challenge trade secrets
  • Setbacks from existing from houses and sensitive structures (such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc.)
  • Setbacks from water supply intakes and other water sources (wells, lakes, ponds, rivers, reservoirs, developed springs)
  • Well plugging requirements and standards
  • Fracking permit applicants must submit a water management plan describing methods used to minimize water withdrawals, and the bill requires reporting of total water used in fracking, as well as sources and sites
  • Protections against air pollution; for example natural gas flaring would be permitted only when capture is infeasible.  These provisions minimize the amount of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds and methane, a major contributor to climate change, released into the air.

Both NRDC and ELPC have prepared detailed descriptions of the key provisions of HB 2615 and have posted them on their respective web sites.  View NRDC’s summary hereView ELPC’s summary here.

As noted above, the environmental community has supported a moratorium on fracking in Illinois and many environmental organizations still support a moratorium until this process can be studied further.  Senator Mattie Hunter (D) has introduced SB 1418 which would put in place a moratorium on fracking.  Some groups that support the HB 2615 will also support the moratorium.

Ann Alexander who represented NRDC at the negotiating table was quoted in the Bloomington Pantagraph on this topic and summed up the attitude of many environmentalists who helped craft HB 2615 : “We are not pleased hydraulic fracturing is coming to Illinois.  We would prefer this risky practice would be studied further.  But we recognize that it is coming here.”

In the same paper, ELPC attorney Jenny Cassel explained the role of the environmental community in the negotiations: “Our goal is to put in the tightest, most stringent regulations on the front end.”

The Illinois Environmental Council believes there is a very real risk that hydraulic fracturing is coming to Illinois – with entirely inadequate regulations – and that it is essential for the legislature to pass tough restrictions now.  There is a real risk that a moratorium will not have enough votes to pass the legislature this year.  We cannot miss this opportunity to protect the citizens and environment in Illinois.  The legislation is not perfect and the environmental community will need to continue to strengthen our laws, but HB 2615 is a vast improvement over the status quo.

We must acknowledge several individuals involved in this process.  Representative John Bradley (D), Representative David Reis (R) and House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie must be recognized for the fair manner in which the negotiation process was established and conducted.  There have been many times in Springfield when our state’s most important environmental regulations have been written and negotiated behind closed doors without input from the environmental community.  In this negotiation, environmentalists were well represented.

We must also thank our environmental heroes.  Representatives Ann Williams (D) and Naomi Jakobsson (D) participated in the negotiations and ensured that our issues were addressed and treated fairly.  Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan provided her staff to assist in the drafting and consistently backed up the environmental community’s efforts to include strong language to protect Illinois citizen rights and the environment.  The Illinois Department of Natural Resources provided important technical assistance and urged strong setback language to protect Illinois Nature Preserves and other critical natural resources.  We thank IDNR Director Marc Miller for his assistance and support.

And much thanks to the team of advocates that has tackled this issue.  The work from so many of IEC’s affiliate organizations was critical in introducing this legislation.

This has been and will continue to be a complicated and challenging issue.  I felt it was important to present this detailed explanation of recent developments to you and IEC’s many supporters.  In the weeks ahead, IEC will continue to work on this issue, as well as others affecting our environment, and we will continue to work to improve and strengthen the state’s laws to regulate hydraulic fracturing.

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