Illinois Governor Signs Controversial Fracking Law

Jessica Corbett

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Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed controversial legislation Monday to regulate horizontal hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—across the state. "This is a good bill and it's the result of a good-faith effort by lawmakers, industry and labor leaders, environmental groups and members of my administration to ensure Illinois' natural resources are protected," Quinn said. Groups such as the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Illinois Environmental Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center helped craft the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act, which requires companies to disclose the chemicals used during fracking and to test water before and after drilling, among other requirements. The legislation passed by large margins in both bodies of the Illinois General Assembly. But many activists would have preferred a moratorium or complete ban of the practice. Scientists and environmentalists worry the chemicals used in fracking—a process of extracting oil and natural gas from shale rock—will have drastic negative effects on the environment. Critics are concerned about managing the toxic waste produced by fracking, as well as potential contamination of ground water, the pollution of air supply and the health risks for workers and residents who live near drilling sites. Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE) said its members were "horrified" by Quinn's decision to sign the bill. SAFE claims the bill was "negotiated behind closed doors, and was not based on scientific study, but rather on the question of what was politically possible, regardless of science." Last week, the Midwest office of Food and Water Watch organized a demonstration to protest the legislation during a Democratic Governors Association reception near Wrigley Field.  Opponents have held public forums, circulated petitions and screened films to protest the legislation and educate the public about the potential risks of fracking. Even as some activists voice concerns with the practice and the state's regulations, Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council told WBEZ that NRDC supports the new law over no action at all: "We're moving from essentially an unregulated situation where Illinois Department of Natural Resources had very little ability to structure what would happen in the state on fracking," said Henderson. Now, his concern is with the IDNR's ability to oversee the complex permitting process provided for by the new law. Supporters of the legislation are calling Illinois' regulations the strictest in the country, as the Chicago Tribune recently reported: "While our community still has concerns about the environmental impacts of this new technology, it is essential for these tough restrictions to become law to protect our communities," said Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, who called the law "the most comprehensive environmental regulatory bill in the country on hydraulic fracturing."

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Jessica Corbett, a former In These Times intern, is a Maine-based staff writer at Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter at @corbett_jessica.
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