Category Archives: Fracking

Posts related to the practice of hydraulic fracturing in Illinois

Closed Door JCAR OKs Illinois Fracking Rule

On Thursday, November 6th the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) approved rules to implement the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act.   Although JCAR’s action was final, the public could not see the final version of the rules considered, and in fact we stillcannot see them until they are filed with the Secretary of State sometime before November 15th.

This lack of transparency is particularly disconcerting in light of the fracking industry’s announced efforts to weaken the rules, and media reports indicating that industry was lobbying JCAR members privy to the draft rules at the time of the JCAR vote.  Thousands of members of the public expressed their opposition to fracking to JCAR, including Sierra Club members, who urged the Committee to reject the industry attacks, and further strengthen the rules.

The JCAR process is not new – virtually every significant change in rules implementing state laws must be presented to the bipartisan panel, ostensibly to ensure that agency rules are consistent with the law.   However, much of its work is invisible to the public, and can result in major changes in public policy.   In the case of a practice as controversial as fracking, this creates a real risk of lobbyists undermining proposed agency rules behind closed doors.

When the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) came out with the initial draft rules a year ago, Sierra Club members and thousands of other citizens and groups sent back with a very clear message – the rules are sorely lacking and must be revised.  After a long and arduous six-month process, IDNR responded to the public comment with revised rules that included some major changes requested by the public.

Fracking poses grave risks to drinking water, air quality, human health, and our climate, and no rules or regulations can make it safe.   Considering the dangers, the safest and best approach would clearly be a statewide moratorium, to allow time to consider important research underway and learn from the experiences of other states.   However, it has been legal for under Illinois’ decades-old oil and gas laws, and the General Assembly has failed to pass legislation backed by Sierra Club and dozens of organizations to impose a moratorium.

With Governor-elect Bruce Rauner making his strong support for fracking in Illinois crystal clear, the public deserved the strongest possible protections against these dangers, and a transparent rulemaking process that values public comment and input. While concerned citizens can only wait and see what final rules JCAR approved, the lack of transparency in making this critical decision does not inspire confidence.

Statement on Draft Fracking Rules Before JCAR

Recently, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) issued revised rules to regulate high-volume horizontal fracturing for oil and gas, or “fracking.” The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) is now considering IDNR’s proposal, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for the health of Illinois residents facing threats to their drinking water, air, and communities.

It falls to Illinois and other states to protect themselves from the dangers of fracking because, during the Bush-Cheney administration, the oil and gas industries were exempted from basic clean water, clean air, and other environmental laws. That means that there is no basic level of protection for states to build on when it comes to fracking, despite its unique risks to public health.

Fracking in other states has been linked to a wide range of health concerns from respiratory problems to skin rashes and other medical problems, including birth defects and lower birth weight. The threats from fracking include drinking water contamination, and increased levels of air pollution, including methane, which is a powerful contributor to climate change. No current technology has been shown to eliminate leakage of methane from wellheads. Fracking has also been linked to earthquakes and major impacts on rural communities, such as added costs to the public because of the damage to infrastructure, demand on health facilities, and increased crime.

Illinois now finds itself targeted by the oil and gas special interests that want to bring this dangerous practice to the Prairie State. Sierra Club and thousands of citizens across the state advocated for a moratorium on fracking in Illinois, to allow us to learn from experiences in other states, and emerging health research. We oppose fracking in Illinois, and have long held that a moratorium on fracking is the safest and best approach, considering the pollution and social problems associated with fracking in other states.

Unfortunately, the General Assembly, so far, has not approved a moratorium on fracking, and the risky practice has been legal for decades under Illinois law. While work to stop fracking continues, it is essential that IDNR adopt the strongest possible protections for the rural Illinois communities in grave danger. IDNR’s first draft of fracking rules, proposed in 2013, prompted an unprecedented outcry from thousands of Illinois citizens who demanded that IDNR go back to the drawing board to fix major problems with their first draft. To their credit, IDNR has responded to comments on their first draft of rules by improving many provisions of the rules as requested by citizens. Significant changes include giving the public a greater voice in permitting decisions that affect them, efforts to close potential loopholes that could allow unregulated fracking, and making it clear that if a clean water well becomes dirty after fracking, fracking is presumed at fault. IDNR is not only within their statutory authority to propose these changes, it is also their mandate to do so as stewards of our land, air, and water.

The revised second notice draft includes many critical improvements that have come under attack by industry. Industry’s push to weaken the revised rules underscores our concern and opposition to fracking in Illinois. Big oil and gas companies clearly value their profits over the health of Illinois citizens, and now they are trying to force through shoddy regulations with a political power play. The General Assembly rejected a similar attempt to silence the public in May, and JCAR’s response to the attack by industry should be the same: allow the professionals at IDNR to listen to the public.

The changes proposed by IDNR are not only crucial for protecting citizens. IDNR’s amendments, and also further improvements, are also necessary to meet the minimum standards in the state statute. JCAR’s responsibility is to ensure that rules comply with the law. Sierra Club urges JCAR to ensure that the Revised Administrative Rules on Hydraulic Fracturing will not be weakened, and make these additional changes:

• Eliminate arbitrary caps on administrative penalties that unnecessarily limit potential fines on those who would cut corners and jeopardize our health.

• Ensure that criminal penalties may also apply, as specified by the Act

• Make clear that all permit suspensions go into effect immediately to protect public safety.

• Set a maximum 21 day time limit for operators to notify the Department of a change in a permit application; to ensure ample time for Departmental consideration of that information.

• Eliminate a potential two-hour delay for medical personnel to obtain industry chemical information; a two-hour delay could be a death sentence to a person having a health crisis from toxic chemicals. Potential confusion and time wasted should be remedied by requiring immediate response from a knowledgeable source, such as a 24/7 poison control center.

• Specify that drill cuttings need to be tested for contamination, including for oil-based mud and polymer based mud, radiation and toxic chemicals prior to storage.

• Inspection of storage tanks and reporting of corrosion should be increased to at least once a month due to the toxic nature of the tanks’ contents. Semi-annually is not adequate.

Legislators on JCAR will act on IDNR’s proposal by November 15th. It is critical that legislators reject the latest power play by oil and gas lobbyists to gut IDNR’s proposed rules. Big oil’s attempt to bully Illinois into deleting key public health protections is a clear warning of the risks ahead to Illinois as corporations target the Prairie State, and it must be defeated. It is also crucial that JCAR insist on further improvements in IDNR’s draft, especially regarding enforcement.

Finally, we urge IDNR to ensure that no fracking permits are considered or granted until all of the engineers, inspectors and enforcement personnel are hired and trained to enforce these rules. IDNR was right to halt fracking permits while these rules are under development, and that pause should remain until the strongest possible rules are in place, along with the professionals to enforce them.

Sierra Club is opposed to fracking and believes no amount of regulation can make this dangerous practice safe. We also believe that Illinois citizens deserve a voice in permitting decisions that will affect them and their ability to hold accountable those who would poison our air and water. We call on JCAR to reject the oil and gas industry’s attempt to gut the protections proposed by IDNR, and push for the strongest possible regulations on this dangerous practice in order to protect the citizens of Illinois. Our work for an energy future beyond fossil fuels will continue, including an Illinois without fracking.

IDNR Issues New Draft Fracking Regulations

Today the Illinois DNR released a new draft of proposed regulations on fracking for oil and gas, which the Sierra Club is in the process of reviewing. Fracking is a very dangerous practice that threatens the health, water supply, and air quality of residents, and Sierra Club is opposed to its use in Illinois. The residents of southern Illinois, and our entire state, are right to be alarmed at the many threats posed by this dangerous technology. Illinois must take all measures to protect citizens and the environment from these risks. The first draft of these regulations, released in late 2013, were woefully inadequate in many areas, and thousands of citizens from across Illinois packed public hearings and submitted public comments demanding major improvements.

Hopefully IDNR heard the voices of the overwhelming majority of Illinois’ citizens who oppose fracking, and demanded that the state go back to the drawing board. While no amount of regulation can make dangerous fracking safe, Illinois citizens deserve a voice in permitting decisions that will affect them and the ability to hold those who would poison our air and water accountable.

The new draft rules, and links to public comments submitted on the previous draft, are available at: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/OilandGas/Pages/PublicHearingTranscriptsAndComments.aspx

Fracking Power Play Falls Short in Springfield

The sponsors of legislation to dictate fracking regulations to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources have said that it will not be called for a vote before the end of the General Assembly’s spring session.

This is a big victory for opponents of fracking – thank everyone who reacted quickly, especially over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, to reach out to their State Representative in opposition. The outcry helped make the bill so unpopular among lawmakers that it was clear there were nowhere near the votes needed for passage.

With this threat seemingly out of the way, Illinois DNR can continue its work to revise the flawed first draft of fracking rules, issued in November of 2013. The many problems with those roles generated a major outcry from tens of thousands of Illinois citizens demanding major changes to make the rules as strong as possible.

Illinois DNR has indicated that they intend to complete the rulemaking process by November 15th, the deadline under law. With the threat of SB649 out of the way, we call on IDNR to listen to the public and make the major changes that are essential to making Illinois’ fracking rules a strong as possible.

Thanks again to everyone who responded to our calls to action, contacted your state legislator, and made this win possible!

Sierra Club sends a strong message–fracking rules must be strengthed

IDNR legal staffer carting away our 3,515 comment letters.

IDNR legal staffer carting away our 3,515 comment letters.

Friday, January 3rd, marked the deadline to submit comments regarding draft rules governing the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act. At 4:00 pm on Friday the Illinois Chapter’s comment letter along with the 3,515 comments you, our membership generated, were hand-delivered to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in Springfield.

Sierra Club joined citizens and organizations from across the state calling for tougher measures to protect public health and the environment. IDNR received nearly 20,000 comments from a diverse group of faith, community, student and environmental groups that included Faith in Place, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), Illinois Environmental Council (IEC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Respiratory Health Association, Illinois People’s Action, Fair Economy Illinois, IIRON and IRON Student Network, and Food & Water Watch.

-1During the 50-day comment period five public hearings were held. And, despite the fact that many were held during the holiday season, approximately 1,000 citizens attended the public hearings. The overwhelming majority of attendees expressed serious concerns that the proposed rules do not reflect the minimum required by the regulatory Act, and will not provide the basic protections needed to protect the public and environment.

fracking pad and impoundmentHigh-volume horizontal fracturing, or “fracking,” is a dangerous practice that, unfortunately, is currently exempt from some of our most important federal environmental protections. This puts a great burden on states, and here in Illinois on the Department, to be the lead regulators of this dangerous practice.  The safest and best approach for Illinois would be to enact a moratorium on the practice so that we can learn more from other states’ experiences, and ongoing scientific and health research.  However, we realize that, if fracking is to occur in Illinois, we must adopt the strongest possible regulations to protect ourselves.  We view the new protections required by the Act not as the ultimate, or even sufficient regulations, but a bare minimum that should be strengthened over time.

IDNR will now review the comments it has received on the draft rules and will have the opportunity to offer revisions before unveiling final rules, which ultimately go before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) for final approval.

Given the grave risk fracking poses to Illinois, we need the strongest possible protections from IDNR. Illinois must also make it very clear that those who would bend or break the law would face severe penalties and fines, not a slap on the wrist. These rules need to be stronger, and the penalties for breaking them must be strict enough to punish those who would cut corners and jeopardize our water supply.

oil-drill-hiRather than rushing through the rule-making process, we urge the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to take the time needed to make sure the administrative rules provide the highest protection for the people and environment of Illinois. Our future and our families depend on it.

To stay informed please join the Sierra Club Fight Frack Team. You will receive timely updates on the fracking issue as it unfolds in Illinois, and be called upon when necessary to submit comments, attend public hearings, etc.

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Sierra Club is opposed to fracking in Illinois, and for a year has been working to build support for a 2-year moratorium on the dangerous practice of injecting large volumes of water containing toxic chemicals deep into the earth to … Continue reading

Illinois Fracking Update

Illinois Fracking Update
Statement of Jack Darin
Director
Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter

Tuesday the Illinois House Executive Committee is expected to consider SB1715, which contains measures to regulate high-volume horizontal fracturing, or “fracking” for gas in Illinois.

Sierra Club opposes fracking in Illinois.   Fracking poses grave dangers to our communities, land, air, and water; and contributes to the continued destabilization of our climate.    The safest and smartest  way to protect ourselves would be to immediately enact a moratorium to allow for thorough study of the risks of fracking and to learn from the experiences in other states and major health studies currently underway.   HB3086 and SB1418 would each enact a two-year moratorium on the dangerous practice, and Sierra Club supports these proposals.

Sadly, fracking is legal in our state today, and evidence suggests that in fact it is already occurring, putting our citizens and environment at grave risk.  Strong regulatory measures are essential to protect the environment and public health, and the provisions of 1715 are improvements on our pre-World War II era oil and gas regulations.   However, new regulations will not make fracking safe.   Our support for these additional protections does not mean we have confidence that fracking can be done safely or without pollution.  No one should point to SB1715 as a model for how fracking can be done safely, or as evidence that the Sierra Club supports fracking.

With dangerous fracking likely already underway in Illinois, it is urgent that the act General Assembly before adjourning the Spring session.   We reiterate our call on Springfield to consider and approve a two-year moratorium to best protect our communities.