By Julie Wernau
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed signed sweeping legislation to regulate horizontal hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking." The move, which was expected, adds a bevy of restrictions and protections to an industry that while legal, was largely unregulated.
Legislators, who overwhelmingly supported the bill, say they hope the new regulations will encourage the oil and gas industry to invest in Illinois, bringing jobs. Many oil and gas companies have held off on investing in drilling operations pending the outcome of proposed regulations.
"It's about jobs, and it's about ensuring that our natural resources are protected for future generations," Quinn said. "I applaud the many environmental advocates and representatives from government, labor and industry who worked with us to make Illinois a national model for transparency, environmental safety and economic development."
The legislation calls for oil and gas drillers to be subject to one of the toughest disclosure laws in the country. It also gives individuals the opportunity to appeal permits and launch lawsuits when they suspect the law has been skirted.
"We know high-volume fracking is already underway in Illinois, and this legislation is needed more than ever to protect the environment while allowing for job creation and economic growth not just in downstate communities but throughout Illinois," said State Sen. Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign), who sponsored the legislation along with Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion).
Environmental groups helped hash out the law, which places most of the responsibility for enforcing the law with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, together the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Environmental groups said they would have preferred a moratorium on fracking over concerns about the impact a potential oil boom could have on the environment and public health but said there wasn't enough political support for the move. The method for releasing oil and natural gas involves pumping massive amounts of pressurized water, sand and chemicals below ground.
"While our community still has concerns about the environmental impacts of this new technology, it is essential for these tough restrictions to become law to protect our communities," said Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, who called the law "the most comprehensive environmental regulatory bill in the country on hydraulic fracturing."
Downstate group Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE), which opposed the bill, said its members were "horrified" by Quinn's decision to sign the bill into law. The group said the bill was "negotiated behind closed doors, and was not based on scientific study, but rather on the question of what was politically possible, regardless of science."
The group said it will continue to push for a ban on fracking.
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