The small county (population about 16,650) in southeast Illinois has collected almost $200,000 in the last two years, just from copying, recording and leasing fees paid by companies that want to explore for underground oil and natural gas in the area.
That’s just a little taste of the potential for economic development in job-starved Illinois from hydraulic fracturing, the horizontal drilling technique known as fracking, which injects water, sand and chemicals into rock to release natural gas and oil.
Energy exploration is creating a job boom in other parts of the country. That’s a big reason why the unemployment rate in North Dakota is 3.3 percent.
The rate in Illinois is, ahem, 9.5 percent.
Companies interested in exploring for oil and gas have been camped out in southern Illinois, researching plat books, leasing property and waiting for Illinois to pass a bill that would regulate fracking.
They’re still waiting.
A fracking bill remains stuck in the House Rules Committee, even after more than a year of negotiations. Half of the members of the Illinois House have signed on as co-sponsors, but Speaker Michael Madigan hasn’t released the bill from the committee.
Fracking has generated controversy, primarily over environmental concerns. Madigan wisely insisted that fracking regulations and environmental protections be carefully spelled out in legislation.
Now it’s on paper, all 128 pages. The bill codifies strong environmental protections for the expansion of drilling deep into Illinois’ New Albany Shale rock formations.
It insulates Illinois from problems experienced in other states. It requires public notification before wells can be drilled. It requires a wastewater storage system to protect against spills. It includes groundwater monitoring and air pollution controls.
It gives substantial oversight to the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency.
It will provide revenue. Lots of revenue. Taxes could generate more than $1 million a year for the state from each successful well, according to fracking proponents.
It will put people to work. Southern Illinois has suffered significant population and job losses. Energy exploration will open a new opportunity for economic development, from the mining to the various spinoff businesses — restaurants, increased demand for steel and well-drilling equipment (some of which is produced in Chicago) … even copying fees at the clerk’s office, which is allowing Wayne County to convert to digital records.
Yet the bill keeps running into holdups. The latest, apparently, comes courtesy of the operating engineers union, which wants the law to require an engineer on-site for each new well that’s drilled. Business groups are balking at that, arguing that drilling companies can oversee well construction without the law telling them they have to hire an engineer, who may have no experience with hydraulic fracturing. This doesn’t belong in the bill.
Illinois’ mining laws are out of date and largely unrestrictive. The delay in approving a regulatory plan for fracking invites companies to drill without strong regulation or to shift their focus to other states that have a stable, known regulatory framework. Illinois needs a law now.
Mr. Speaker, call the bill.