Fracking rules need revision

By Editorial Board

Despite years of vigorous protest from environmentalists, energy companies will soon be able to drill for oil and gas in the state as a result of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources publishing its final regulations on hydraulic fracturing Nov. 14.

Hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, is the highly controversial process of extracting natural oil and gas from the ground by breaking down rocks through drilling and injecting fluids. Environmentalists widely consider fracking harmful to the environment, yet it continues to gain popularity in the U.S. because of its economic advantages. Fracking provides a domestic supply of fossil fuels and decreases reliance on foreign markets for oil.

Although Illinois could undoubtedly benefit economically from fracking, the IDNR’s draft is troublesome. Fracking is already deemed a dangerous, environmentally harmful process, and the IDNR’s regulations should be made stricter before allowing energy companies to begin permit applications for drilling.

The fracking regulations published by the IDNR have provoked significant criticism from environmentalists, who claim the guidelines are vague and create dangerous loopholes, according to a Nov. 17 Chicago Tribune report. The guidelines also have concerned residents. A lawsuit was filed by homeowners in southern Illinois, claiming the IDNR regulations had not received a sufficient number of public hearings or support from scientific documents, according to the Tribune report.

This is the third and final draft created by the IDNR, and aspects from previous drafts were missing in the latest version. The second draft required energy companies to explain their water management plans to ensure maximum water conservation. Curiously, in the final draft, that clause was absent. The second draft also allowed the IDNR to relocate sites if they were too close to schools or playgrounds. That aspect was also conspicuously absent from the final draft.

Strict regulations for fracking are necessary in light of the potential environmental impact. Fracking requires a significant amount of water—at least one billion gallons of water are required for one fracturing job, which is mixed with toxic chemicals such as mercury and methanol. This toxic liquid has been known to mix with ground and drinking water in cities and towns around fracking sites. The resulting waste from fracking is also released into the air, harming the ozone layer and polluting the air. This process has spurred the introduction in Congress of the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which would require energy companies to disclose what chemicals are used at fracking sites. Such bills are necessary, and citizens should push their legislators to support laws such as this.

Fracking raises alarms not just for environmental reasons but for safety reasons as well. A water line at a fracking site in Colorado ruptured Nov. 13, causing the death of one worker and seriously injuring two others, according to a same day Denver Post report. The process is a highly complex operation, and errors can be life-threatening. This makes the IDNR’s lenient regulations all the more concerning.

The IDNR clearly created the fracking rules in an effort to appease energy companies, but the environmental concerns outweigh the potential economic gains. To create a law fair to the environment and the energy companies, the IDNR’s regulations should be revised. This time, the IDNR should hold additional public hearings so citizens can express their concerns and refer to strict procedures in the next draft.

In the meantime, the federal government should consider regulating fracking more aggressively. Federal laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act are supposed to bar some fracking methods but only create more loopholes. The process is too dangerous for the environment and workers to be left up to the states to handle.