The state’s Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act has “strong, strong teeth in it” to protect against water pollution but not everyone is convinced its bite will be strong enough if the drilling process comes to Illinois.
The legislation signed into law earlier this year lays out regulations for high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, the drilling process that pumps a mix of sand, water and chemicals into the subsurface to create fractures in reservoir rock and release oil and natural gas.
“We do have the most stringent regulations ever adopted,” state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said.
Bradley led the effort to write the legislation and worked with a diverse group, including representatives from environmental groups, the fracking industry and state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources, EPA and Attorney General’s Office.
“We really put a lot of time and effort into it. A lot of people hashed it out over a long period of time,” he said. “These regulations are the strongest in the nation and they are the result of negotiations and were agreed upon by all parties.”
The legislation requires, among other things, close monitoring of water with frequent testing of both surface and groundwater; disclosure of chemicals used in the process; and industry accountability.
However, the legislation doesn’t go far enough for some.
“There are some good provisions of a regulatory nature to try and protect us from water contamination or pollution but (the act) could have been stronger,” said Vito A. Mastrangelo, an attorney with Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing the Environment.
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Fracking is fraught with risks to water safety, he said. Among his many concerns are the effects natural disasters could have on water safety.
“There are no regulations, limitations or considerations taking into account floodplain,” he said. “I’m deeply disappointed they didn’t provide consideration to that, especially with the recent flooding in Colorado. There have been pipeline breaks and videos of oil tanks swept away with the floodwater. Anywhere there is an oil operation, storage or pipeline, water can be contaminated.”
And despite the legislation’s requirements for construction standards, he worries that even the best-built wells and pipes could not withstand a sizable earthquake.
“This area is overdue for a major earthquake and that was not taken into consideration,” he said. “I believe there is a significant risk of (the mix of chemicals) getting out and going into the aquifers, water supplies and wells. The act does talk about whether the process causes earthquakes but doesn’t even address this.”
The act strengthens requirements for infrastructure, he said, but even without an earthquake “You can’t preserve steel pipes underground forever. I think there is a significant risk posed by a pipe leaking or breaking.”
Bradley said the act has provisions that will protect the water.
“There are all kinds of provisions to protect against pollution, with both civil and criminal penalties for violations,” he said. “We put strong, strong teeth in it.”
On Twitter: @beckymalkovich