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Lawmakers Push for Transparency in Illinois Fracking Law

A set of bills introduced this month in the Illinois legislature would update the state’s fracking law to increase protections for land owners and require more information from oil and gas companies applying for fracking permits.

Organizers from several environmental groups held a press conference Tuesday in Springfield to discuss three new pieces of legislation.

All are aimed at the state’s 2013 law that regulates hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses high-pressure chemicals and water to create cracks and release oil and gas from shale formations deep beneath the Earth’s surface.

Studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have linked fracking to possible water contamination, and fracking has also been associated with an increased risk of earthquakes. A recent University of Chicago-led study found that babies born within 2 miles of a fracking site are more likely to be born at a low birth weight, increasing their risk of asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and infant mortality.

One of the new bills, sponsored by state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, would require companies to obtain written consent from owners of land and mineral rights who would be affected by a new horizontal fracking well.

“Based on the law that was passed in 2013, it’s possible for wells to be dug under their land, through their mineral rights that they own, without their consent,” Guzzardi said during the press conference. “And that just seems plain backward. That seems like a violation of basic principles of property rights.”

Last year, attorney Vito Mastrangelo represented three White County residents living near the site where Illinois regulators had signed off on the state’s first fracking permit despite pushback from environmental watchdogs and community-based groups.

Although the company soon withdrew its permit, citing market conditions and Illinois’ “burdensome and costly” regulations, Mastrangelo said during Tuesday’s press conference that the state’s fracking law fails to protect residents.

Under the law, he said, the state is required to provide notice only to owners of land or mineral rights who live within 1,500 feet of a proposed well – despite the fact that fracking in Illinois involves drilling, injection of chemicals and extraction of minerals beneath land that is up to 3 miles away from the well location.

The practice has been referred to by legal writers as “subsurface trespass,” Mastrangelo said.

Another new bill, introduced by state Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, would force companies to disclose all chemicals used during drilling and completion of fracking wells. Current law allows details of some mixtures used in the fracking process to remain confidential because they are considered proprietary information.

A third bill, filed by state Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, would repeal Illinois’ fracking law altogether and in turn ban fracking in the state. Drury, who is vying for the Democratic nomination for attorney general in the upcoming primary election, was one of nine state representatives to vote against the 2013 fracking law.

“We only get one shot at preserving our Earth, and fracking is going in the wrong direction,” he said.

Drury’s bill is by far the most ambitious of the three, and environmental advocates acknowledge that the bill is unlikely to succeed.

A spokesperson for a research and public outreach group launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents independent oil and natural gas producers in the U.S., provided a statement in response to questions about the proposed legislation.

“The Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act was the product of extensive negotiations between numerous parties — including numerous environmental groups,” said Seth Whitehead of Energy In Depth, which is sponsored by the IPPA. “So why the urgency to amend the legislation when all issues have been completely negotiated and finalized?”

Contact Alex Ruppenthal: @arupp | (773) 509-5623

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