Fracking regulatory bill heads to legislative committee

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Reporter - Kendall Downing

CARBONDALE, Ill. - It's a polarizing issue pitting profit against environmental protection. An Illinois House Committee is set to hear a sweeping bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short.

The method of obtaining natural gas from shale below the earth's surface is controversial, with those for it citing economic profit and those against it pointing to harmful environmental effects, like groundwater pollution.

Tuesday afternoon in Springfield, a handful of environmental groups held a rally voicing their opposition to fracking. Some of the groups are against the bill. Others claim more safeguards could've been put in it. All the groups though support two other bills that call for a moratorium on the drilling process.

The Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Act is 75 pages long. And Dr. Christopher Lant, a Geography professor at SIU-Carbondale, said each word is important.

"It's reasonable and sensible. It is strict," said Lant.

The bill would require companies undergo a strict permit process with the state of Illinois and have pollution insurance to get the go-ahead to drill. The public has the option to comment on any permit and request a hearing.

Then there are the chemical components. Companies must tell the state what's in fracturing fluid. And that fluid has to be held in tanks above ground. All water sources within 1500 feet of fractured wells will be tested.

"We don't believe there is such a thing as safe fracking. Folks here don't want this dirty drilling," said Bruce Ratain, State Policy Associate with Environment Illinois.

Environmental groups point to the use of toxic chemicals as their main argument against the practice.

"There are significant standards to make sure the chemicals are available to agencies that need that. There's pre-testing, there's post-testing," said Rep. John Bradley.

Bradley, a sponsor of the bill, said tough monitoring standards will be required.

Dr. Lant predicts an energy boom in southern Illinois in a couple of years.

"I think it's timely if not a bit overdue. But we need that legislation in place, so there's good rules of the road," said Lant.

The bill will go before the Illinois Revenue and Finance Committee this Thursday morning at 8.

For a link to the full text of the bill, click here.

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