This post was written by Edward Walsh
Claiming that the legislation will give the state the strongest environmental standards for hydraulic fracturing operations, or “fracking” in the United States, on June 17, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bill regulating the practice. The Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act introduces the first comprehensive controls on fracking in the state. Among other things, it requires oil and gas drillers to disclose which chemicals they are using both before and after fracking operations and requires water sampling of pre- and post-fracking groundwater with operators liable for any ensuing water pollution. The New Albany shale formation in southern Illinois, believed to contain billions of cubic feet of natural gas, is the focal point of the now settled fracking debate in Illinois.
The law will be implemented by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources. Applications for fracking operations are now subject to public comment periods and a public hearing. Once approved, operators must submit both pre- and post-fracking chemical disclosures to the state, in contrast to the practice in other states. Operators may attempt to shield the identity of the chemicals they use from public disclosure under “trade secret” provisions with such claims subject to challenge through the state’s freedom of information law.
In contrast to standard practice, wastewater from operations must be stored in above-ground closed tanks, rather than in pits typically used in the industry. Operators must test groundwater around the fracking area against a predrilling baseline, 6, 18 and 30 months after operations commence. Operators are responsible for groundwater impacts if testing shows that the baseline standard has been exceeded, absent convincing evidence that their fracking operation was not the source of the impact.
The law has the support both industry groups and environmental groups making legal challenges unlikely.