Illinois is now the latest state to officially approve hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, after lawmakers on Thursday signed off on long-awaited rules governing the controversial oil and gas drilling technique.
However, it might be another week before Illinois residents know the details of those rules; while oil and gas drillers can now begin to apply for fracking permits, the final rule isn’t expected to be made public until November 15 at the latest.
The secrecy is sparking outrage from environmentalists.
“The rules were negotiated behind closed doors, without meaningful scientific review,” Annette McMichael of the group Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment told the Huffington Post. “There is no doubt they will be woefully inadequate to protect Illinois residents from the known harms horizontal fracking has brought to residents across America.”
It’s been a long road to get fracking regulations approved in Illinois, even though the process has already started in some parts of the state.
In June 2013, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed and signed into law what some considered to be the strictest rules for high-volume oil and gas drilling in the nation. After that law passed, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was required to develop its own regulations to be able to enforce Quinn’s law.
But when the DNR proposed its fracking regulations in November 2013, environmentalists were surprised to find that they did not include — and in some cases undercut — some of the key protections in Quinn’s law. Specifically, the DNR’s regulations were easier on wastewater disposal, which is widely considered to be one of the biggest environmental threats that fracking poses.
To remedy the outrage from environmentalists, the DNR submitted a second draft of proposed rules in September. But those drew opposition from oil and gas companies, who said the stringent rules would be too costly for them, thereby threatening economic development in the state.
Now, it looks as though the DNR has made up its mind on what the rules will entail. But for now — even though the rules have already been passed — the details are not available to the public.
“We don’t know if our concerns have been taken into account because we don’t know what changes were made,” Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of Sierra Club, told the Chicago Tribune.
Whatever the rules say, the ability for companies to file for fracking permits paves the way for the state to become the next frontier of America’s oil and gas boom. The Illinois Basin’s New Albany Shale formation, located in the southern part of the state, could have up to 300 billion barrels of oil.
What’s more, analysts have speculated that the state’s underground rock formation is comparable to North Dakota’s plentiful Bakken Shale, where oil production has skyrocketed since the fracking boom began in the mid-2000s.
While that has brought undeniable economic expansion to North Dakota, some in Illinois fear the inevitable increases in population growth, truck traffic, noise, and possibility of air or water pollution that often accompany fracking booms. Braze Smith, an organic farmer from the southern part of Illinois who traveled six hours to be at the vote on Thursday, told the Tribune that he would not take the negatives for the positives.
“We will resist this with our bodies, our hearts and our minds,” he said. “We will block this, we will chain ourselves to trucks.”
Still, with Quinn recently losing his bid for re-election to Republican opponent Bruce Rauner, the state is likely to become more friendly to fracking than it was in the past. Oil producers and drilling companies donated nearly $240,000 to Rauner’s campaign at an oil industry fundraiser, where drillers and politicians supportive of fracking said they were tired of the process being held up in the state.
“The oil industry is beside itself with Pat Quinn,” said Illinois state Rep. David Reis, whose district is in southern Illinois. “Rauner has made it clear that the oil industry and the jobs are a priority.”