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March 8, 2013

Illinois deal on fracking could be national model

(Continued)

Bradley whittled negotiators down to a core group — four from industry, four from environmental groups, plus representatives from the attorney general's and governor's offices, regulatory agencies and lawmakers, said Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.

That group was pared even further for the toughest negotiations, which included discussions with outside technical experts on complicated issues, said Ann Alexander, an NRDC senior attorney.

"I won't say there weren't times that voices got raised a little bit, but ... it's a very good model of cooperation," Alexander said. "It beats the (typical) model of having drafts furtively circulating ... or emerging at the last minute when nobody has had a chance to read them."

The deal was done by late February. It has yet to be considered by a legislative committee, which would have to endorse the proposal before sending it to the full House.

With oil companies leasing millions of acres around the country in a rush to extract oil and gas reserves, more states will face similar challenges.

Although Illinois' proposed regulations might not work for every state, the unusual model of cooperation might, depending on the relationship between industry and environmentalists, Denzler said. Even now, though, Illinois' agreement is "very precarious," and his group has warned that any attempts to change it before it comes for a vote "could tip it one way or another."

More than 170 bills were introduced in 29 states last year to regulate oil and gas drilling, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only 14 became law. Many were simply to define whether local, state or federal government could regulate fracking. The bills don't include regulations drafted by state regulatory agencies, rather than lawmakers.

California state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson said Illinois was able to negotiate many of the same protections she wants in her state, where energy companies are eying a shale formation near Santa Barbara that may have four times more oil than North Dakota. She said regulations proposed by the governor's office were inadequate.

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