SPRINGFIELD — A coalition of environmental groups, backed by some Democratic state lawmakers, are making another attempt this year to pass legislation requiring more public disclosure about horizontal fracturing, or “fracking” wells in the state.
Those are a type of oil wells that involve drilling vertically into the ground, and then horizontally into the underlying rock and soil, using pressurized fluid to fracture the ground and release oil deposits that cannot be recovered through traditional vertical wells.
Fair Economy Illinois, a liberal-leaning coalition of grassroots community organizations, announced that measure Wednesday as part of its legislative agenda for 2019. Similar legislation was introduced in 2018 but failed to pass through the General Assembly.
Supporters of the measure are seeking full public disclosure of the location of all fracking permits issued by the state, including the full extent of all land involved in the fracking, as well as details of the chemicals used in the pressurized fluid.
Under a 2013 law, such disclosure is required only for “high volume” fracking permits. Supporters of the proposed new law want to extend the same requirements to smaller operations which, under a 1951 law, are allowed to have the information classified as confidential for up to two years. The different classifications are determined by the amount of pressurized fluid used in the operation.
“Right now, it is legal in Illinois to spend a few hundred dollars and get a fracking permit and request a confidentiality clause, and then to frack in secret for a period of two years. We think that is wrong,” said Dawn Dannenbring, of Illinois People’s Action, a group that is part of the Fair Economy Illinois coalition.
Environmental groups argue that fracking poses a potential health hazard to nearby residents because the chemicals used in the pressurized fluid include compounds that can contaminate nearby water wells.
William Rau, another member of Illinois People’s Action, said that’s common in southern and southwestern Illinois, where most of the oil production in the state takes place.
“You can be half a mile from a well and a horizontal well can go right under your property and you wouldn’t know about it,” Rau said. “So there are no defensive actions you can take, like getting a test on your water wells.”
Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, and Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, are cosponsors of a bill pending in the House Energy and Environment Committee. No hearing has yet been scheduled, but a number of groups have already lined up in opposition, including the Illinois Oil and Gas Association.
Dan Reitz, a lobbyist for IOGA, said in a separate interview that the industry generally has concerns about some portions of the bill, including provisions that might require drillers to disclose trade secrets in public documents.
“We’ve done our best as an industry to make sure (the wells) are run as safely as they can be,” he said. “I’m not aware of any big problems out there. We want to find out what the genesis of this legislation is and why they want to visit this on the smaller producers.”