CHICAGO (AP) — After years of clashing over the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," the oil industry and environmentalists have achieved something extraordinary in Illinois: They sat down together to draft regulations both sides could live with.
If approved by lawmakers, participants say, the rules would be the nation's strictest. The Illinois model might also offer a template to other states seeking to carve out a middle ground between energy companies that would like free rein and environmental groups that want to ban the practice entirely.
"The fact that Illinois got there," was significant, said Brian Petty, executive vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs at the International Association of Drilling Contractors. "Anytime you can bring the lion and lamb to the table, it's a good thing. But it's so highly politicized in lot of places" that compromise could be difficult.
Fracking uses a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to crack and hold open thick rock formations, releasing trapped oil and gas. Combined with horizontal drilling, it allows access to formerly out-of-reach deposits and has allowed drillers to move closer to populated areas.
The industry insists the method is safe and would create thousands of jobs — possibly 40,000 in the poorest area of Illinois, according to one study. Opponents say it causes water and air pollution and permanently depletes freshwater resources.
In New York, where a fracking moratorium is in effect until a health study is completed, one activist said Illinois environmentalists caved in when they should have pushed harder to block fracking.
"I was just appalled at this collaboration ... to create these regulations based on the false premise that fracking is inevitable," said Sandra Steingraber, an Illinois native and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a group whose champions include actor Mark Ruffalo and singer Natalie Merchant. "It was not their job to help pave the way for fracking to move into Illinois. It was to protect the environment."