Illinois is the latest state to officially approve hydraulic fracturing.
Lawmakers signed off on the long-awaited rules regulating high-volume oil and gas drilling, clearing the way for companies to get fracturing permits and unleash what they hope will be an energy boom in the southern part of the state. Lawmakers, who approved the rules unanimously and without discussion, expressed confidence that concerns raised in 30,000 public comments had been addressed. "All of the changes that were made were because the earlier proposed rules were inconsistent with the statute," said Democratic state Senator Don Harmon, the committee chair.
The Illinois fracturing law passed by the Illinois legislature last year drew national attention as a model of compromise between environmental and industry groups, but cooperation broke down when a first draft of rules was criticized by environmentalists and a second draft was faulted by the industry. "It's a pendulum," Harmon said. "This is a return to the center."
Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller said key changes to the rules requested by environmentalist remains in place. They include clarification that wastewater would not be stored in open pits for more than a week at a time, which environmentalists had said would lead to contamination. Public hearings for fracturing permits must be held further than 30 miles from where a well site would be located. In addition, Miller said fines were increased for violations of the rules.
Mark Denzler, chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, said he was "thrilled" with the new set of rules. "We look forward to companies getting permits and start fracturing in the state if Illinois," Denzler said.
Now that the committee has signed off on the plan, drillers can begin applying for permits 30 days after registering. Permits must then be approved or rejected by the department within 60 days. It might be another week before Illinois residents know the specific details of the rules; while oil and gas companies can now begin to apply for permits, the final rules are not expected to be made public until November 15.
The ability for companies to apply for permits paves the way for Illinois to become the next frontier in America's oil and gas boom. The Illinois New Albany Shale formation, located in the southern part of the state, could have up to 300 billion barrels of oil.