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Fracking: Underfunded IDNR stalled

February 26, 2014

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Although contractors are awaiting the green light to begin extracting oil and gas by way of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is still mired in the construction of the rules and challenged by an inadequate budget.

Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed fracking legislation last July While the law is expected to be one of the most restrictive in the nation, the Illinois provision was expected to result in a down state job boom within six months, after the IDNR completed the rules. Almost nine months later, the IDNR is still interpreting more than 100 pages of legalese.

Fracking opponents still fear the state could be stalling in favor of long, drawn-out rules that could only benefit the gas and oil industry.

“This is a conversation that goes much deeper than (fracking),” Natalie Long, an organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund told The Southern Illinoisan. “It goes into the protection of our rights as Southern Illinoisans. None of us in this room have been given the choice as to whether this happens.”

Advocates fear tight regulations that could squeeze some contractors out of the Illinois market.

In short, both sides are still less than satisfied with the IDNR’s first set of rules. With the Jan. 3 deadline for public comment long gone, the IDNR rules are still far from the law signed by Quinn last spring.

Initially pushed as a jobs bill, the law leaves it up to the IDNR to pursue fracking violators in court for criminal and civil damages. That, opponents say, is something the department will rarely do. The penalties are also far from the criminal laws already on the books. For example, if a company illegally dumps radioactive waste, it is subject to a felony and fines of $50,000 per day. Under the INDR fracking rules, such a practice is subject to a $100 fine for a first offense, up to a $1,000 penalty for subsequent violation.

Under department rules, the IDNR has little power in regulating water pollution. This, opponents say, will allow companies to ignore potentially dangerous conditions that could spread toxic substances and propose serious threats to workers. Although companies are subject to suspension for polluting Illinois water sources, pollution could reach dangerous levels before regulators take action.

The practice of fracking involves injecting pressurized liquid and sand into rock formations to extract various gases and oils. In addition to potentially negative environmental impacts, fracking comes with a worker fatality rate more than 700 times higher than other jobs in the mining industry. Yet, the IDNR rules do not provide for federal workplace safety provisions.

On average, fracking wells use between 2 and 4 million gallons of water per job. This can divert water from streams, rivers, power plants and municipal sources.

Fracking also produces flowback — wastewater often rich in radioactive substances. The water is contained in steel tanks and disposed of in deep waste wells.

“The benefits of hydraulic fracturing is that it is a new form of energy production, it will help create jobs in the state,”  Tim Schweizer, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said in an earlier report.  “If it’s done properly by the book, by the regulations, it should be environmentally safe.”

More information about fracking is at idnr.gov.

From the Feb. 26-March 4, 2014 issue

 

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