This past week marked the final public hearings on the draft IDNR regulations on fracking in Illinois: the ground rules and regulatory procedures that the Department of Natural Resources will use to enforce safety and environmental compliance in oil and gas extraction via horizontal hydraulic fracturing, i.e., “fracking.” When IL lawmakers passed a law allowing fracking to proceed in the Prairie State last June, they trumpeted the fact that the regulatory framework they set up was the strongest and most strict in the nation.
But as noted here previously, the Illinois environmental community was deeply divided about the efficacy of these regulations, and in fact that while they may well be stronger than those that exist in other fracking-friendly states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, etc., they are still riddled with loopholes and weak spots, such as these identified by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
Many citizens and environmental groups in Illinois are highly critical of the draft regulations now under review as well as the process by which the IDNR has solicited public input. They also argue that a far better course of action would be a moratorium for at least two years in order to scientifically assess the environmental/health impacts of fracking or an outright ban on fracking in IL.
Despite the fact that the public hearings were scheduled during the holiday season, between Nov. 26th and Dec. 19th at various places within the state — a time that makes it difficult for students, for example, to attend such events — citizens of all ages and persuasions packed each of the public meetings, such as these in Chicago, Decatur, and (most recently) Carbondale.
Here at the Nov. 26th hearing in Chicago, Roosevelt undergrad and Sustainability Studies major Rebecca Quesnell attended, and relayed this information about what citizens had to say at the hearing:
Some of the common themes addressed [by citizens] at the hearing were along the lines of demands we made and inadequacies that need to be addressed within the proposed rules and regulations. The 11/26 hearing (which I luckily had the opportunity to attend) was scheduled two days before Thanksgiving — and while the overall turnout was great, there were still a lot of people who could not make it due to traveling for the holidays.
Thus, as a collective group against fracking (with some outliers that were for it, or who were indifferent and just curious) we demanded that the IDNR hold more public hearings, and also extend the public comment period.
As for inadequacies addressed, there were about four common points/themes brought up by those opposing fracking and/or critical of the regulations draft: the fines these companies must pay for violations (starts at $50 and goes up to $2,500); the fact that no scientific studies were consulted or used while drafting the rules; health professionals having inadequate or no access to the chemicals used in this process; and possible seismic activity as a result of hydraulic fracturing in Southern Illinois where there are two known, major fault lines.
With the repetition of these points, along with other inadequacies being addressed, I really feel that the IDNR got a glimpse of the resistance to fracking here in Illinois as well as ideas as to how they can improve their insufficient rules and regulations for this process!
While the public hearings are now concluded, citizens still have a chance to comment on the IDNR guidelines: Jan 3rd, 2014 is the last day the public may submit comments on the proposed regulations for fracking here in Illinois.
The IDNR’s draft rules and regulations for fracking in IL, at 135 pages, is long and complex. Readers are certainly encouraged to go directly to the IDNR’s website and submit whatever comments you’d like on the draft document. But here is a handy list of tools and websites designed to make that process quicker and easier. Please take the time to choose one and make a comment to the IDNR.
- Illinois People’s Action, a grassroots organization based in Bloomington, has set up this website which provides daily suggestions and sample comments for the IDNR regulations. Easy to review, customize, and submit your comments.
- The Natural Resources Defense Council provides an initial review of the rules here. This blog post by Ann Alexander details serious concerns and the many ways in which the rules do not meet the intention of the statute.
- Sierra Club Illinois Chapter has put together an information page and action alert here. They have four categories of changes they’d like to see implemented: Stronger Protections Against Water Pollution, Closing Loopholes To Ensure All High-Volume Fracking Is Covered, and Stricter Penalties And Disclosure.
- The Environmental Law and Policy Center has created an important fact sheet on five of the top problems with the rules. Read more and take action at their site.
- Faith in Place has designed an action site for congregations and people of faith. Click here to view the site and take action.
For more information on fracking from the SUST at RU blog, click here.