By Jim Hagerty
A bill aimed to skip the rule-drafting process and begin fracking in Illinois recently died in the hands of legislators.
The bill would have allowed fracking to begin while rules for the practice were still being drafted. It would have also imposed a moratorium in northern Illinois.
According to fracking legislation passed last June, oil and gas drilling cannot begin until the rules are drafted. The law has placed the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in charge of overseeing the practice. Since last year, lawmakers have accused the department of sandbagging the process. The IDNR has until November to complete the rules. That’s a wait Illinois Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, says is too long.
Bradley introduced the bill to leapfrog the rules three weeks ago, hoping to oust the IDNR for guidelines he drafted with environmentalist and business groups.
Lawmakers, however, say the bill has no industry support and will not advance. That means the rules will stay in the hands of the IDNR. Supporters say the lack of backing helps proliferate a politically driven effort to complicate the process.
“(Fast-tracked) fracking will bring a windfall of jobs to Illinois — billions in new revenue to the state of Illinois and downstate communities,” state Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, said. “Politically driven delays by the governor and his administration and departments are single-handedly stymieing this process, this economic boom.”
Meanwhile, the November deadline is not sitting well with unions, which could be a hurdle for Quinn in coming months. Reps say the state is missing revenue by waiting on the IDNR.
The IDNR says it is on schedule. After weeding through thousands of public comments, officials plan to meet its fall deadline.
“We are making good progress,” IDNR Spokesman Chris Young said. “We took between 30,000 and 35,000 comments. We received comments from local and state governments, industry professionals and environmental groups. From those comments, we identified 140 issues that are being addressed. The rules will be forwarded to JACAR (Joint Committee on Administrative Rules).”
The IDNR has until Nov. 15 to complete the rules. The Joint Committee has 45 days to accept them or request changes.
“Let’s move hydraulic fracturing out of the hands of the state’s bureaucracy and put it into the hands of the Illinois economy,” Laborer’s International Union Spokesman Sean Stott said.
Shifting control away from the IDNR could benefit the private sector, but there’s no guarantee. From a lobbying standpoint, the state could be a sitting duck, pushing Quinn and the IDNR against the wall whenever the rules are published.
“I don’t see an advantage of pushing it along any faster,” Illinois Renewable Energy Association President Bob Vogl said. “But, this could have been with the IEPA, because they oversee all of the energy and environmental pollution. But, it was removed and given to the DNR. So, there is a lot of pressure to make this happen.”
A similar effort is being pushed in southern Illinois, something downstate legislators say could shore up drilling plans before this fall. Lawmakers say a fast-tracked plan is vital to prevent companies from looking elsewhere for investment opportunities.
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said, “The rulemaking delays are pushing companies to rethink their investments in Illinois.”
From the June 11-17, 2014, issue