As national energy production transitions from a focus on coal to natural gas, the trend is likely to extend to the Prairie State. Although Illinois has historically been a center of coal production, the state government is wasting no time in adapting to changes in industry. At the same time that Illinois fracking regulations are some of the newest in the nation, they are also some of the strictest.
While shale gas production is more of a future prospect than a current industry for Illinois, the state is no stranger to the energy industry. In fact, the first discovery of coal in North America was made in 1673 in what would become Illinois3. As technology and markets expanded, the state saw a coal boom that began during the Civil War and whose effects have reached to the modern day3.
Around the same time, some of the first test wells were drilled in the state for oil and gas resources4. However, Illinois resources only began to be produced on a commercial scale with the advent of seismic imaging technology. Seismic exploration led to an oil boom that lasted through the 1940s and 1950s and led to the development of around 650 oil fields, mainly located in the southern portion of the state4.
While both coal and oil production have slowed in the state since their peak production years, the presence of fossil fuel production industries forced the state government to establish effective regulatory frameworks early on. The Division of Oil and Gas in the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals was created by the Oil and Gas Act in 1941 in order to manage development of subsurface resources in the state. While the Oil and Gas Act does not specifically address hydraulic fracturing, it lays an effective foundation on which to build Illinois fracking regulations.
Fracking regulations in the Illinois Oil and Gas Act
Although the Illinois Oil and Gas Act was not intended to deal with hydraulic fracturing, its coal mining origins have provided the Illinois Department of Natural Resources with the means to effectively regulate disposal of produced water. Due to the high water levels in coal seams, coal extraction often produces vast quantities of wastewater, just like hydraulic fracturing. To read more about coalbed methane and coal seam composition, please see Frackwire’s Water on Fire article.
As a result, produced water is covered under the following provisions of the Illinois Oil and Gas Act2:
- All disposal wells require a permit from the state and incur a fee that is deposited into the Underground Resources Conservation Enforcement Fund.
- Any transport of produced water requires a permit and also incurs a fee.
- Any operator who transports produced water assumes legal responsibility for any pollution or other adverse effects that may occur.
- Detailed records must be kept documenting produced water transport and submitted to the state upon request.
- If a well site is found to be leaking produced water or oil and gas into groundwater or onto the surface, the state may require the operator to repair the leak, plug the well, or otherwise remedy the situation. If the issue is not resolved within 30 days, the state may perform the repair and hold the operator responsible for the costs.
- The state may issue and enforce a cessation order to any operator determined to be in violation of state regulations or permit conditions.
Furthermore, the Illinois Oil and Gas Act indirectly regulates hydraulic fracturing under its provisions for “enhanced recovery methods”. The Act gives the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the authority to regulate and supervise the use of horizontal drilling and other “enhanced recovery methods” including hydraulic fracturing2. While hydraulic fracturing is allowable under the Act, it requires permitting from the DNR and must be done in a way that avoids “waste”2. “Waste” produced by drilling activities is prohibited and includes
permitting the migration of oil, gas, or water from the stratum in which it is found, into other strata2
the unreasonable damage to underground, fresh, or mineral water supply…in the operations for the discovery, development, production, or handling of oil and gas.2
Illinois’ Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act
Although the Oil and Gas Act indirectly regulates fracking to a certain extent, Governor Quinn recently signed into being the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act (HFRA). Several years in the making, the HFRA is the end product of extensive negotiation between state legislators, environmental groups, concerned citizens, and the oil and gas industry. The HFRA specifically addresses hydraulic fracturing in the state of Illinois and establishes new rules dealing especially with water protection and industry transparency.
The Illinois HFRA establishes a multitude of new rules designed to monitor and limit water use as well as to protect it from contamination associated with drilling and fracking operations. Changes made by the HFRA include the following1.
- Wastewater storage in open air ponds is banned.
- Produced water must be reused in fracturing operations or disposed of in an approved reinjection well.
- Produced water must be tested for chemical content.
- If it can be proven that fracking fluid is being released from the formation being fractured, the well in question must be shut down.
- Pre and post testing of surrounding surface and groundwater supplies must be performed in conjunction with fracking operations.
- If water contamination occurs in proximity to a fracking site, the operating company is presumed to be liable—the burden lies on the drilling company to prove that their operations are not responsible.
- Hydraulic fracturing may not occur within a certain distance from water sources, to be determined by the DNR.
- The state retains the right to regulate, monitor, and inspect well casing construction and integrity.
- Companies must submit a water use plan to the Illinois DNR for a permit to withdraw water for hydraulic fracturing.
- Upon cessation of production, companies must submit a report detailing the total volume of water used in the fracturing of the well to the DNR.
The Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act also implements several provisions intended to increase industry disclosure and citizen involvement1.
- Drilling companies are required to disclose the complete chemical content of fracking fluids both before and after fracturing. These lists will be posted online at the DNR website.
- Companies may request trade secret protection of proprietary chemicals. However, this protection must be announced and may be challenged by the public through the legal system. Trade secret protection also does not apply to doctors in cases of research for medical treatment and diagnosis.
- Any permit application must be published twice in a local newspaper, sent to the surface owner of the property, and made available for public comment for a minimum of 30 days.
- Anyone who may be affected by the permit may request a public hearing to contest the permit. Final approval will require judicial review.
1) Environmental Law and Policy Center. (2013).Understanding the illinois hydraulic fracturing regulatory act.
2) Illinois General Assembly, (n.d.). Illinois oil and gas act
3) Illinois Mine Subsidence Insurance Fund. (2012, August 7).History of mining in illinois.
4) NSI Oil. (2010). History of oil and gas production in illinois.