The Illinois Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill placing strict regulations on hydraulic fracturing last week, and now heads to Gov. Quinn’s desk where he has promised to sign it.
SB 1715, passed the House on Thursday 108-9 and passed the Senate 52-3 the following Friday night.
Signing the regulations into law effectively lifts the “de facto” moratorium on frac’ing. Since companies can’t invest in any planning or drilling operations until they know what the rules are going to be.
While the bill isn’t perfect, legislative support for shale development in Illinois is nonetheless a welcome sight, especially given the Democratic supermajorities in both the House and the Senate, who failed to decide on virtually any other hot button issue, most notably the state’s severely unfunded pension liability, which is causing the state to rack up millions in debt daily.
According to the Daily Journal, the bill had the support of…
[Governor] Quinn, business groups, downstate mayors, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the business community, energy companies, transportation groups and labor unions. Ironically, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources also are listed among the bill’s supporters.
Of the nine House members and three Senate members who voted against the measure, all of them were Democrats from the Chicago-area, which as you can see from the picture above, there won’t be any frac’ing.
Hydraulic fracturing has occurred in Illinois before. With the first well estimated to have been completed sometime in the 1950s. Approximately 30,000 to 50,000 wells have been frac’ed since then, without a single case of groundwater contamination. Opponents usually respond to that fact by pointing out the hydraulic fracturing is now done at high-volume and is combined with horizontal drilling. But ironically, they’re using an argument for hydraulic fracturing, not against it.
As I stated in the State Journal-Register, it’s from those advancements that frac’ing is now able to produce the same amount of energy from fewer wells, minimizing its impact on the environment while revolutionizing the United States’ energy outlook. That doesn’t even count all the pollution it’s reduced by making natural gas more economical to develop and therefore cheaper and more abundant to supply, thereby displacing other fuels such as coal for electricity generation which emits far more pollutants than natural gas during combustion.
Anyone doubtful of the safety of high-volume hydraulic fracturing just needs to review the list of regulatory statements on high-volume hydraulic fracturing submitted by the states, with the overall theme being there hasn’t been a single case of groundwater contamination due to high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
An interdisciplinary report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explains why this is so:
[T]here is substantial vertical separation between the freshwater aquifers and the fracture zones in the major shale plays. The shallow layers are protected from injected fluid by a number of layers of casing and cement—and as a practical matter fracturing operations cannot proceed if these layers of protection are not fully functional.
Substantial vertical separation, indeed. It would take five of Chicago’s Willis Tower (tallest building in the United States after One World Trade Center) stacked vertically to equal the approximate depth between freshwater aquifers and the fracture zones.
As for water use, Ohio Department of Natural Resources says the amount of water required to fracture a horizontally drilled well is comparable to what the average golf course consumes weekly. Considering the economic value we get in return, the water frac’ing does consume is put to extraordinary good use. One analysis of Marcellus shale wells in Pennsylvania found one well requires 0.16 gallons of water to generate the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline. By contrast, corn ethanol requires 2,259 gallons of water to produce the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline. That means developing natural gas from shale is 14,000 times more water-efficient in producing energy than corn ethanol.
With a just recently-risen 9.3% unemployment rate, the second-highest in the United States, residents are predictably moving out of the state. One study found allowing frac’ing in Illinois could create up to 47,000 jobs for Illinois, mostly in the struggling southern Illinois region.
With the Illinois Legislature coming closer to making the pension problem even worse (see pension holiday), rather than fixing it (despite that issue receiving by far the most pressure and scrutiny from rating agencies and the media alike to do something) overwhelming support for the exploration and development of the New Albany shale could certainly be considered the session’s biggest success.