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Almost 450 days after the Illinois General Assembly passed the law in Illinois allowing high-impact oil and gas drilling, the rules governing hydraulic fracturing were finally delivered to the state committee charged with their approval. The Illinois legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules now has approximately 65 days to approve them. If it fails to approve the rules, the process will start all over again. 

As Illinois moves closer to allowing hydraulic fracturing within the state's borders, proponents and critics are poring over the extensive rules developed by the Department of Natural Resources and both are preparing for their last shot at changing the proposed rules. When the Illinois law was passed over a year ago, it was seen as a model of compromise on how to properly regulate hydraulic fracturing; since then, both sides have been critical of the rule-making process. Hydraulic fracturing has become big business in Pennsylvania and North Dakota and proponents have complained that the slow pace of the rule making process in Illinois may kill the state's hope for an oil boom as interested energy firms could flee for other states with the regulations already in place. 

The Department of Natural Resources reworded some rules after receiving more than 30,000 comments on a draft it released late last year. Among the changes, the agency clarified that companies must be available 24 hours a day to identify the chemicals they are using to health care workers treating patients. Language was changed to specify that any wastewater overflow stored in pits during an emergency must be removed from the pits and stored in closed tanks within seven days. It was also clarified that the new rules apply to existing oil and gas wells.

Both critics and proponents have voiced concerns with certain rules. For example, industry advocates want to limit the people who can ask for a public hearing on a permit to those who will be directly affected by it. "We don't want someone for out of state to be able to contest a permit," said Brad Richards, executive vice president of the Illinois and Gas Association. "That just does not work for large-scale development." Critics were disappointed that the rules did not address how liquid that comes from hydraulic fracturing wells must be tested and they are concerned that the fines for violations, while increased, were capped.

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules has until mid-October to review the rules and either approve them, reject them or ask for changes. The timeline can be extended by another 45 days if the panel needs more time. The committee will begin hearings on the revised rules on September 16. It is expected that the rules will be adopted, but not in time to begin hydraulic fracturing this year. Even if the committee approved the rules in October, companies must first register with the Department of Natural Resources, then wait 30 days to apply for a permit and it could take up to 60 days to have the permit approved.