Bill seeks to jump-start 'fracking' in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD - An Illinois lawmaker has introduced a proposal to jump-start hydraulic fracturing in the state after industry groups have complained of delays in the rule-making process.

Rep. John Bradley's proposal comes near the anniversary of the legislature's authorization of the oil and gas drilling method last May. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has spent months holding hearings and gathering thousands of comments on the best way to regulate the method, also called fracking.

Filed just one week before the legislature adjourns its spring session, the legislation would skip a rule-making process by the DNR. Environmental groups interpret the bill as stripping that power away from the state agency and leaving it in the hands of the legislature itself.

The bill also would establish a moratorium on fracking in northern Illinois counties, though there is limited drilling potential there compared with the central and southern parts of the state.

Bradley, a Marion Democrat who sponsored what was seen as a model fracking agreement between industry and environmentalists last year, did not respond to requests for comment. But oil and gas industry representatives said the rule-making process had been taking too long, and that the state was running the risk of prospective oil and gas drillers leaving the state and going elsewhere.

"We're extremely frustrated and disappointed with Gov. (Pat) Quinn and the Department of Natural Resources, that they've not promulgated rules so that the industry can get up and going," said Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.

Environmental activists said the legislation would hurt the state's ability to impose critical controls on a practice with the potential to pollute water and cause other ecological damage. They said it would effectively disregard more than 30,000 public comments on proposed regulations that the DNR is in the process of sifting through.

"It does certainly appear to remove the authority of the Department of Natural Resources to adopt any rules, and move that authority to the legislature to define how fracking is going to be carried out in Illinois," said Jennifer Cassel, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The Department of Natural Resources was still reviewing the legislation Friday, spokesman Chris Young said.

Fracking uses a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to crack and hold open thick rock formations, releasing trapped oil and gas. Combined with horizontal drilling, it allows access to formerly out-of-reach deposits.

The state has seen limited fracking so far, but until the compromise legislation was passed last year, companies weren't required to say what method they used to extract oil and gas, and the DNR had no way of knowing whether it had begun or how extensively.

Under the law, the DNR has a November deadline to put the rules in place. The Legislature has a full plate of other issues to deal with, including adoption of a state budget and a proposed income tax increase extension, before its spring session is scheduled to end May 31.

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