CHICAGO — The Illinois Department of Natural Resources published a first draft of Illinois’ rules for high-volume oil and gas drilling on Friday, and environmental groups quickly criticized them as violating the spirit of regulations that industry, environmentalists and lawmakers crafted together.
The state’s hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” regulations were hailed as among the toughest in the nation when they were signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this year. The DNR, which will enforce them, must adopt rules to reflect the law, and will seek public feedback until Jan. 3.
But the proposed rules appear to undercut some key protections in the law, said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest program, who participated in negotiations.
For example, the law requires that wastewater be kept in tanks, rather than open pits used in some other states, but allows emergency overflow into reserve pits. But the proposed rules do not specify how companies should calculate the size of the tanks they’ll need, and allows overflow to be removed seven days after fracking is completed, rather than seven days after it occurs — which Alexander called an “incentive for industry to try to make routine use of the dangerous open-air pits, under the guise of emergency use.”
Industry officials said they want to ensure the rules reflect what was agreed upon, adding that they have their own concerns about some language in the rules. That includes how to determine who may request a public hearing on a permit application.
“Our concern is that this has opened it up to where even someone from out of state could ask for a hearing based on opposition to fossil fuels,” said Brad Richards, executive vice president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association.
Even so, the proposed rules are a good start, and “I think throughout the process that things will be ironed out,” so that fracking can begin next year, said Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association.