Something big may actually get done in Springfield soon. Although the progress of Chicago casino gaming, conceal-carry gun and pension reform would seem to disprove that, fracking (hydraulic fracturing) may be coming to Illinois via the current Budget Session.
Fracking is a process where water, gravel, sand and an assortment of chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde are used in a high-pressure mix to extract oil and natural gas. It has caused a “boom era” in Texas and Pennsylvania which have both had 40,000 plus new jobs created because of fracking. But opponents argue that the process can create air and water pollution. Nationally, 30 states allow fracking and it accounted for 187,360 jobs in 2012 with a projection of generating 436,773 by 2035.
Southern Illinois could be a fracking hot spot because of New Albany shale, a 60,000 square mile formation that covers Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky that is entrenched 600 to 5,000 feet below ground. According to a 2011 estimate by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it could be the fourth largest holding of shale gas in the northeastern region of the nation.
Every now and then a specific legislative issue provides a real look at how the process works in the Illinois Statehouse. Fracking is one of them. There are two bills, HB2615 and SB1418 that are being pushed by mostly Chicago-area legislators to put a two - year moratorium on fracking and have the concept studied for health and environmental impact by a new Hydraulic Fracturing Task Force.
There is another bill, HB2615, however, supported by legislators from places like Marion, Champaign, Macomb and Jacksonville, Illinois that want to provide guidelines to support fracking operations in the state. That bill would create the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Act and put in place regulatory and operational guidelines and rules adopted by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It would even create a Mines and Minerals Regulatory Fund, which may be the key to all of this. It would be the vehicle for Illinois to charge extraction fees and new taxes in addition to the jobs. For a region that has had tremendous economic woes, the possibility of fracking booming in Southern Illinois is very, very hard to ignore. There have been estimates that it could have between a $1 billion to $9.5 billion economic impact for the state.
The combatants are clear. Business interests are on one side and environmentalists are on the other. The actual Illinois residents who would be most impacted, meaning folks in Southern Illinois, are split. There are groups such as SAVE (Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment) who are protesting and others who are leaping to sell the mineral rights to their land and/or land jobs generated from fracking with estimates ranging from a low of 1,034 to a mid-range of 10,000 and possibly even 47,000.
At some point, conceal-carry gun legislation will have to be resolved, because it is mandated by the courts. Chicago may never get a casino, but the plight of education funding in Illinois may make it a reality. In his budget address, Governor Quinn seemed to telegraph that if a casino gaming bill included dedicated funding for education, he would sign it. Eventually, the time-bomb will go off and force Illinois to reform its public pension systems.
But, fracking could generate jobs and revenue in a part of the state that needs it badly. The real issue is how much revenue the Illinois Statehouse can extract in fees and taxes to ignore the pleas of environmentalists. It’s about money at the end.