The newly released federal plan to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants has triggered discussions over whether it is now even more important for the state of Illinois to move forward quickly with horizontal hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in coal-rich southern Illinois. There are concerns that the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency’s proposals to curb carbon dioxide emission could close power plants, raise electricity rates and end jobs in southern Illinois. “With a 9.7 percent employment rate in the state of Illinois, we need to get busy fracking.” said Rep. David Reis (R-Olney).
Illinois lawmakers last year approved hydraulic fracturing, but high volume oil and gas drilling cannot begin in the state until the Illinois State Department of Natural Resources, which has been charged with pulling together rules to implement hydraulic fracturing, finishes codifying the rules to implement it. The rulemaking process is currently underway and the Illinois State Department of Natural Resources has come under pressure to finish the process faster. The deadline for completion is not until November 2014, but the oil and gas industry fears that if the process drags on, drillers will leave the state. Mark Denzler, vice president of Illinois Manufacturer’s Association has expressed disappointment on behalf of the hydraulic fracturing industry, “[w]e’ve waited a year to get rules in place and then nothing. A state with high unemployment – there’s extreme frustration and almost anger that they haven’t moved faster to get rules in place so the industry can take off.”
The Illinois State Department of Natural Resources is currently working through the comments that were submitted on the bill and is halfway thru the process. A bill that sought to speed up the start of hydraulic fracturing in Illinois by skipping the rulemaking process and imposing a moratorium on fracking in northern Illinois was recently withdrawn. Legislators said the bill did not have enough votes to pass and the oil and gas industry did not support the bill as it was concerned that any kind of moratorium, even in an area like northern Illinois that was not likely to see any fracking, would set a bad precedent.
However, the oil and gas industry does press on in southern Illinois. Per its owner Isaac Woolsey, drilling interest Woolsey Operating Co. plans to build its headquarters in Fairfield, Illinois and has spent the past year securing rights to drill on thousands of acres in about a half dozen counties in Illinois.