CHICAGO — — Supporters of high-volume oil and gas drilling said Wednesday that they hope for a quick vote on a bill to regulate the practice in Illinois after reaching agreements on hiring and environmental concerns.
The House bill — drafted with the help of industry and some environmental groups — was introduced in February with strong bipartisan support. But it became stalled over an amendment requiring energy companies to hire Illinois-licensed water well drillers, which industry claimed was unnecessary for oil and gas drilling. Under a compromise reached this week, companies instead would get a break on severance, or "extraction," taxes if more than half their workers are from Illinois and receive prevailing wages.
Industry and environmental groups also agreed to revise the definition of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," based on the volume of water used.
Fracking uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack rock formations deep underground and release oil and natural gas.
Supporters say fracking is safe, and will create tens of thousands of jobs in struggling southern Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Illinois' regulatory bill has been touted as the toughest in the nation with provisions that include holding drillers liable for water pollution and requiring them to publicly disclose the chemicals they use.
But opponents say they worry that fracking could cause air and water pollution, deplete water resources needed for other uses. They also say the bill would leave local communities with little or no control over the practice. They have been pushing for a two-year moratorium to allow more time to study health and environmental issues, but bills introduced in the House and Senate have received little support.
Rep. John Bradley, the Marion Democrat who introduced the regulatory measure, could not be reached for comment on when the measure could be called for a vote.
Brad Richards, president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association said he was "thrilled" with a solution that satisfied labor and industry interests.