By Mark Wachtler
November 20, 2014. Edwardsville, IL. (ONN) Energy corporations and private Illinois citizens have been salivating at the opportunity to cash in on the state’s underground gas resources using the controversial method known as fracking. Over the past two years, Illinois Democratic leaders have slowly walked away from their environmentalist allies and sided with the energy companies. Now, the state could be only 24 hours away from publishing the official rules, giving a green light to begin drilling as early as this weekend.
Illinois fracking rules allow drilling as close as 500 feet away from schools. Image courtesy of ProtectOurChildrenCoalition.org.
Supporters of fracking in Illinois claim it will be a financial buoy to the nearly bankrupt state and it’s similarly suffering residents. Opponents counter that Illinois is the largest producer of corn in the entire country. And the corn economy dwarfs, and is jeopardized by, the state’s fracking operations. They also cite the state’s capitulation to corporate energy giants who demanded many protective regulations be stripped from the law, which they were. Also taken out of the guidelines were boundaries that forbade fracking next to schools. Now, Illinois school children can spend their recesses watching industrial fracking operations from as close as 500 feet away.
Hanging on one County Judge
In June 2013, Illinois’ Governor and State Legislature – all Democrat super-majorities – passed the state’s first hydraulic fracking law. The legislation gave a green light to energy corporations to begin drilling for oil and gas in Illinois. The only thing remaining was for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to turn the law into a workable framework with an official application and regulation process.
The first draft of those rules placed limits on fracking operations in Illinois based on the state’s just-passed law. But the wording of the rules was too vague and the agency released a second, more detailed draft. That second draft was rejected by corporate drillers who threatened to leave Illinois if the rules weren’t relaxed in their favor. The third and final draft of the state’s fracking rules did just that. And according to Illinois environmental groups, the final draft puts the state’s drinking water, agriculture industry and the safety of school children in jeopardy.
Those fracking opponents sued the state to stop the final publishing of the rules into the state’s registry by the Secretary of State. Once the rules are officially published, something expected to happen any day now, oil and gas companies can begin drilling in Illinois. The only thing left that could stop them is one downstate Madison County Judge. Environmental groups filed one final lawsuit claiming the state of Illinois used a flawed or corrupt process to draft, revise and approve the rules. The Judge is expected to announce her ruling today or tomorrow.
Illinois Fracking opponents
When the final fracking rules were released by the state, Illinois environmental groups were outraged and publicly insisted they were betrayed by Democrat Governor Pat Quinn and the Democrat super-majority in the State Legislature. Read the Illinois Herald article from two months ago titled, ‘Illinois Environmentalists outraged over new Fracking Rules’.
“Illinois released rules that will allow frackers to begin drilling in Southern Illinois and the rules are unbelievably awful,” Illinois Food and Water Watch’s Jessica Fujan told the Illinois Herald at the time, “In my last email, I mentioned that Governor Quinn promised to fix thirty major problems with the draft regulations before approving permits. Not only did he fail to keep his promise, he failed to respond to the thousands of Southern Illinoisans who demand a ban on this dangerous industrial drilling practice.”
The Sierra Club joined the chorus saying, “Fracking is a very dangerous practice that threatens the health, water supply and air quality of residents. Sierra Club is opposed to its use in Illinois. The voices of the overwhelming majority of Illinois' citizens oppose fracking and demand that the state go back to the drawing board.” The Natural Resources Defense Council added, “The revised IDNR rules cannot and will not protect Illinoisans from the dangers of fracking.”
As detailed by the Illinois Observer, supporters of fracking in Illinois are calling this last, final environmental lawsuit frivolous and expect it to be thrown out by the court. “The statute was analyzed during a thorough and exhaustive process at JCAR,” Illinois Manufacturers Association’s Mark Denzler says, “We can now begin the process of hydraulic fracturing which will result in significant economic development and job creation throughout Illinois, much needed state revenue and the strongest environmental regulations in the nation.”
The publication also quoted one unnamed Illinois Democrat legislator who dismissed claims that fracking opponents were turned away from public hearings after government officials packed the meeting rooms with fracking supporters. “This is a poster child for frivolous lawsuits,” the official criticized, “The fracking opponents have misunderstood the rule-making process from the start.”
Madison County Judge Barbara Crowder heard arguments from both sides this week. Her ruling is expected today or tomorrow.
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