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Over a year has passed since the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation approving high volume oil and gas extraction in Illinois and certain business and labor groups believe that the state is taking too long to implement the rules that will allow hydraulic fracturing in Illinois. The Illinois law was lauded as a compromise between industry and environmentalist on how to regulate the practice and for containing the toughest environmental regulations in the country for the industry. However, additional rules had to be drafted before operations could begin and last summer, state and industry officials said it would take a year to get the program running. Industry groups, lawmakers and other supporters of hydraulic fracturing had hoped drilling would begin this summer. That scenario appears unlikely.     

As of mid-July, the Illinois State Department of Natural Resources, which has been charged with pulling together rules to implement hydraulic fracturing and overseeing the practice, has hired just four of fifty three new employees it says it needs as it continues working to complete rules that drillers must follow.  As a result, said the consortium GROW-IL, companies are beginning to look elsewhere to begin hydraulic fracturing operations, leaving Illinois at risk of losing jobs and tax revenue. GROW-IL contends that shale formation in the southern part of the state could produce $9.5 billion in economic impact and produce up to 47,000 jobs annually. Mark Denzler of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association compared the situation with hydraulic fracturing to medical marijuana, “[t]he medical marijuana bill was signed into law after hydraulic fracturing, yet the rules to put marijuana use in place have been completed, while there is no end in sight for hydraulic fracturing rules.” The perception of delays led at one point to a proposal to strip the Illinois State Department of Natural Resources of its regulatory role and let lawmakers write the rules instead, but that proposal was not ultimately voted on.

Agency officials from the Illinois State Department of Natural Resources say they are working diligently on filing the jobs and will meet a November 15 legal deadline to have the rules in place. “There is a large amount of work that needs to be done to stand up a new regulatory program and implement it,” said Illinois State Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller. “We have been methodical and efficient in our approach … we are making great progress.”  Miller continued, “[e]very one of our agency lawyers is working to revise a first draft of the rules,” though Miller would not say when he expected to complete the process.  Even if the rules were completed, the agency does not yet have enough experts to issues permits, inspect wells and perform other tasks associated with the anticipated influx of drilling activity.