Illinois Fracking Bill: A Worst Case Scenario
William C. Rau
The Illinois Fracking Regulatory Bill (SB1715) has been praised as a "national model." It is a model all right—for the oil industry. And the exact opposite for citizens. Here's why.
Article XI of the Illinois State Constitution guarantees a healthful environment and empowers citizens to sue governmental or private parties that sully that right. There's one crucial caveat; the General Assembly can write regulations to supersede Article XI. This is what the fracking bill does; it helps protect oil and gas companies from lawsuits. In industry parlance, it gives them "regulatory certainty." Rather than protect citizens, regulatory certainty provides oil and gas companies with rights to "toxic trespass" on private property.
Would you let a neighbor come up to your property line and throw toxic garbage over your fence? You would not, and neither would anyone, anywhere.
Yet, this bill grants oil and gas companies exactly that right. They can pollute our air, poison our water, contaminate our soil, increase our body's burden of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, and destroy the value of our property. Yet, there are substantially reduced chances for compensatory damages if the Illinois constitutional guarantee to unfettered legal proceedings against environmental polluters is compromised by its General Assembly.
Oil and gas companies will be "following the law" when they trespass toxically. They can trespass physically, too, through the forced pooling clause in the Illinois Oil and Gas Act. When the majority of acreage in a designated hydrocarbon pool falls under an oil or gas lease, non-consenting owners are forced into the pool. Access road and well pads can be placed on their land and non-consenting landowners face arrest if they try to prevent physical trespass on their own land. In the Land of Lincoln, oil and gas companies can extirpate citizens' life, liberty and property rights in the U.S. Constitution.
As part of this industry-friendly package, the bill gives legal standing to cost-cutting but unsafe and unhealthful practices. Loopholes allow flaring of natural gas, use of frack pits to store toxic drill cuttings and larger pits to store "unexpected" amounts of toxic flowback water. Setbacks between well pads and homes, schools, churches and public water sources are grossly inadequate. Extreme chemicals, such as 2-butoxyethanol and dibromoacetonitrile, are allowed as frack fluids, and oil or gas brine will not be tested for radioactivity, toxicity or salt content.
The bill contains no worker safety provisions even though the fatality rate among oil and gas field workers is seven times higher than all industries. Workers receive zero protection under this AFL-CIO sponsored legislation.
The bill also sets a new standard for corporate giveaways. There is a "tax holiday" on the first two years of oil and gas production. Fracked wells deplete rapidly with at least half of the oil and gas produced in 24 months. As a result, the Illinois tax rate will be about half North Dakota's even though Illinois oil will be far more profitable: much lighter (premium to WTI benchmark), closer to the surface (reduced drilling costs) and much closer to refineries and big markets, along with existing pipelines (significantly reduced transportation costs). Masters of fiscal irresponsibility, Springfield politicians intend to solve the state's revenue problems with a multibillion dollar corporate welfare scheme.
Another example: well plugging and cleanup bonds are so low that companies will forfeit bonds with taxpayers footing the cleanup costs. The first out-of-state company publicizing its fracking Illinois plans will drill 156 wells. Since bonds are capped at $500,000 per company, and since plugging and cleanup costs for 156 wells will run about $4 million, guess what? The $500,000 will be left as a tightwad's tip on the way out of town. Taxpayers will foot the $4 million tab. Multiply this case by the number of wells drilled in Illinois and we have another multibillion dollar giveaway.
Finally, even if we had faintly decent regulations—rather than a loophole-ridden, oil company giveaway—regulatory agencies in Illinois have been disemboweled. Budget and staff reductions have cut so deep that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Natural Resources resemble two Humpty Dumpties who have been thrown off a regulatory wall. It will be very difficult to put these agencies back together again—and definitely not in time to assemble enough trained and experienced staff to enforce regulations.
In sum, we get industry-friendly "regulations" that will not even be enforced and a pseudo-revenue bill that rewards wealthy oil companies and penalizes taxpayers while citizens lose a constitutional liberty.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Looks like you'll have to trust your map if you want to find the newly designated Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine.
By Steve Horn
After taking heat last fall for destroying sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the owner of the Dakota Access pipeline finds itself embattled anew over the preservation of historic sites, this time in Ohio.
The plan provides billions in subsidies for renewable energy, bans the construction of new nuclear plants and decommissions Switzerland's five aging reactors. There is no clear date when the plants will close.
By Alex Kirby
An ambitious scientific expedition is due to start work on May 22 on Bolivia's second-highest mountain, Illimani. The researchers plan to drill three ice cores from the Illimani glacier, and to store two of them in Antarctica as the start of the world's first ice archive.
Although not on most people's radar here, New York is one step closer to becoming the first state to have genetically modified, non-sterile insects released outside without cages.
The viral video of a young girl snatched off a Richmond, British Columbia dock by a sea lion is another reminder that people shouldn't get too close to wild animals.
Port officials in Canada have sharply criticized the family for putting themselves at risk for feeding the large animal, especially since there are several signs in the area warning people not to do so.
Flooding breached a supposedly impregnable Arctic "doomsday" vault containing a collection of seeds stored for an apocalypse scenario last week, after warmer-than-average temperatures caused a layer of permafrost to thaw.