Industry to seek changes in Illinois 'fracking' rules

Supporters of high-volume oil and gas extraction said Wednesday that they'll seek dozens of changes in proposed rules governing the practice in Illinois that they believe violate a hard-won compromise between industry and environmentalists.

A coalition of industry groups will outline more than 65 areas of concern to a legislative panel that must decide whether the rules - written by the Department of Natural Resources to implement a new hydraulic fracturing law - can take effect as written, said Mark Denzler vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association.

The law, passed last year, was seen as a national model of compromise, but both advocates and opponents since have been critical of the rule-making process.

The DNR reworded some rules after receiving more than 30,000 comments on it original draft, and submitted the new version to the Joint Committee on Legislative Rules on Aug. 29. JCAR has 45 days to approve the rules, reject them or ask for changes.

"We were very hopeful that the (DNR's) rules would simply implement the law, not expand or contract a law that was very carefully negotiated over three years," Denzler said.

Among the objections: New language says the DNR can consider the cumulative health and environmental impact of multiple wells when evaluating a permit for a single well, which Denzler said was dismissed during negotiations over the law.

But taking into account compounded risk is reasonable, said Ann Alexander, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, adding that the law allows the DNR to flesh out and clarify some parts of the statute, including how to determine if a permit protects public health and water resources.

Even so, environmental groups also will seek changes, including to provisions that cap the total amount that companies can be fined. They also say the DNR failed to fully define when water has been polluted.

Fracking generally uses a mixture of water, chemicals and sand to release trapped oil and gas. Opponents fear it will cause pollution and health problems. The industry insists the method is safe and will bring a badly needed economic boost to southern Illinois.

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