Mt. Vernon Register-News

March 30, 2013

Legislature discusses fracking bill

By TESA GLASS tesa.glass@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — MT. VERNON — State Rep. Mike Bost says the latest fracking bill in the Legislature could mean jobs in Southern Illinois, if it doesn’t get derailed with amendments.

“We worked on this bill in phases,” Bost said. “First, we did a lot of research and learned a lot of information about fracking and the process. ... we worked on the taxing side ... and now the newest amendment added to it is to have all union labor on the sites.”

It has been a roller coaster of a ride for the bill, which was introduced by State Rep. John Bradley, with Bost as a chief co-sponsor. The bill, HB 2615 and was introduced on Feb. 21.

Since that time, additional bills have been filed which would place a moratorium on fracking.

Fracking is horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The process uses high pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack rock formations to release oil and natural gas. Vertical fracking has been used for decades in the oil industry, while horizontal fracking has been used for just over a decade.

One group in Illinois has also come forward to oppose the use of fracking — SAFE, which stands for Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment.

One such representative of the opposition, Vito Mastrangelo, went before the Rend Lake Conservancy Board last week, to “urge you not to make any sweetheart deals ... they use too much water.”

Also this week, SAFE held an anti-fracking rally in Carbondale, stating they believe the process will pollute air and water, urging the state to place a moratorium on the process.

“There is a moratorium on the table and we’d like students to call their legislators and tell them they have concerns about this and a moratorium is a good way to put the breaks on this and study the issue,” stated Tabitha Tripp of SAFE.

Bost said the first phase of the bill he is co-sponsoring addressed any environmental concerns with the process.

“First (SAFE) said they were concerned about surface ground water and aquifers,”Bost said. “The language fixes any problems with that issue, as companies will have to test first, during and after. It also addresses the use of any chemicals they may be using. Then, the next thing (SAFE) cited is concerns with the fault line. We brought in experts from around the nation, specialists that understand the shale plate here. Fracturing, both types, have never been known to be tied to any fault problem.”

Bost said the legislation answers all concerns brought forward by SAFE.

“But they said at no time would they sign off on any fracturing bill,” Bost said. “Even the Sierra Club and other environmental groups stood up in Springfield and said they now agree with the language on the regulation side.”

After moving from the regulation side of the legislation, work has been completed on the taxing side.

“We made it fee based to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency can recoup the costs of permitting,” Bost explained. “We did the same for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. There are several taxes in place, basically it sets in place taxes on a percentage of the oil brought out. ... The first year is one amount, and steadily goes up. When the well stops producing at a certain level, the taxes drop down again.”

Negotiations on the bill broke down when a third amendment was filed on the bill stating all those working on a well must be union members.

“There are only three companies that do this work,” Bost said. “They use highly-trained employees who have the training on the intensive technical aspects of the drilling. Yes, there will be laborers as well, but many of them are already in unions.”

The Illinois Chamber Foundation estimates fracking in Southern Illinois could create more than 47,000 jobs and have an economic impact of more than $9.5 billion, based on a study conducted by the Illinois State University. The study did not include economic impact of land leases and royalties.

“Horizontal fracking is already going on in Indiana on the exact same shale plate we have in Southern Illinois,” Bost said. “If we create an environment where the companies do not generate enough profit to justify coming to Illinois, they know there are other states they can go to. ... Right now, companies are not doing it in Illinois now, but there are no laws to regulate it if they were to start. They could go ahead and come in. If we put a moratorium up, they will not even look at Illinois. They will sell what leases they have secured and go. I would rather we have the legislation in place before anyone starts doing it, and then be able to take advantage of the economic impact.”

Bost said after the spring break for the Legislature, the bill will be discussed in the House Rules Committee.