Starkey Citizens for a Clean & Healthy Environment
Marcellus Watch | ‘The toughest regs’

Now Illinois is stepping forward as the latest pretender to the title: “Toughest fracking regulations in the nation.”

It’s customary for a state new to fracking to grab for the title. Once, a few brazen drilling proponents even claimed it for New York State until some stickler pointed out that New York’s regs are 40 years old and really skimpy to boot. So that fizzled.

Illinois is fracking’s fresh new face.

How ironic that the Land of Lincoln is getting all excited about the “New Albany” shale play. It’s a 60,000-square-mile area covering parts of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky that may hold one-tenth of the oil and gas deposits of the Marcellus Shale that has New Yorkers hyperventilating.

Now, we’re told, Illinois is drafting what could be a “national model” of fracking regulation worked out by politicians, energy lobbyists and a couple of big environmental groups.

“It pulls together a suite of safeguards that go a long way toward holding industry accountable for the risks inherent in horizontal fracking,” a National Resources Defense Council blogger gushed.

Drafts call for “numerous best practices” in the drilling process, well water testing before and after drilling, “financial accountability” and mandatory plugging of abandoned wells. Of course, the bill is destined to be nibbled ferociously by piranha-like industry lobbyists, and only the end product matters.

Early signs are not promising.

Already it’s been reported that the Illinois legislation includes language generated by ALEC - a notorious oil and gas-sponsored organization that specializes in crafting artful state loopholes and disseminating them nationwide. ALEC targets provisions requiring full disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.

The problem with the dealmaking process now under way in Illinois is it’s almost certain to produce fool’s gold. The oil and gas industry continues to insist on socializing the true costs of fracking, and its lobbyists simply roll politicians in state after state.

Effective fracking regulations would include a few basic principles:

• Requiring “responsible” gas drilling. Repeal the federal loophole that exempts fracking waste from being defined and regulated as “hazardous.” Hold drillers financially liable for accidents and spills through a combination of bonding, insurance and an industry-financed, state-run natural gas accident fund.

• Providing explicit opt-outs for citizens who oppose drilling. Repeal statutes (like New York’s dreadful compulsory integration law) that empower state regulators to act as enforcers in eminent domain procedures on behalf of the energy industry. Enact state legislation that underscores a community’s right to ban gas drilling.
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