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The screamers and the doers

Monday, Feb 25, 2013

* It’s been my experience in Illinois that environmentalists have long been divided between the screamers and the doers. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The far more radical screamers make sure that the doers don’t give away too much, but in the end the screamers are nudged aside and the doers cut the deal. The deals are never perfect, which upsets the screamers to no end, but after the deal is done the screamers are marginalized.

It’s probably going to happen again now that there’s a fracking deal

A coalition of Illinois residents opposed to high-volume gas and oil drilling is criticizing Gov. Pat Quinn for supporting a bill that would establish regulations for the practice.

A group called “Stop the Frack Attack” issued a statement Friday urging Quinn to instead support a 2-year moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

On Thursday, two downstate lawmakers introduced a regulatory bill drafted with the help of industry and some environmental groups. The governor released a statement hours later, praising the bill and saying it could help create jobs.

Fracking uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack open rock formations and release oil and gas. The industry is eyeing southern Illinois’ New Albany shale.

* From the anti fracking group’s Facebook page

Some in the environmental movement are confused, they seem to think that fracking can somehow be made safe by “stricter” regulations.

* From the Illinois Sierra Club, which has tried to walk a line between the antis demanding a moratorium and the realistic expectation that fracking is coming one way or the other

Can we stop the industry from bringing fracking to Illinois? When legislators proposed a two-year moratorium on the practice last year, we strongly supported that proposal, and we support continued calls for a moratorium today. However, we also need to acknowledge that fracking is legal today in Illinois, and for all we know, may already be occurring as you read this. We also need to recognize that our current laws regulating oil and gas drilling, originally passed in 1941, are totally inadequate to deal with the range of issues raised by injecting millions of gallons of chemical-laced fluid deep into the earth only to come surging back with gas and potentially oil. In short, Illinois citizens and our environment, at the moment, are virtually defenseless against against the problems experienced in other states.

That’s why it is essential that Illinois move quickly to get the strongest possible safeguards in place to protect citizens and their water supplies. Fortunately, discussions in Springfield have produced a basic agreement on what would be the strongest set of protections of any state in the country. The open pits for wastewater in use in other states will be banned here, and there will be none of the dumping the water into wastewater treatment plants, which has overwhelmed sewage plants elsewhere. The discharge of any fracking wastewater into surface water will be a felony offense. The industry must disclose what chemicals are used, and the most toxic ones will be banned. Ann Alexander from the Natural Resources Defense Council, who helped represent environmental groups in the negotiations that produced the proposal, has a good rundown on the major provisions of the bill here.

* From Ann Alexander’s NRDC blog

This legislation is the product of an unprecedented stakeholder process that brought together representatives from all of the concerned state agencies, the drilling industry, and the environmental community, as well as legislators from both sides of the aisle. No compromise is ever perfect, and this bill is certainly no exception. But in its current form, it would represent the strongest and most comprehensive law governing hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – in the nation. While some other states have put in place bits and pieces of the kinds of protections that are essential to protect the public, no state has yet put together as many of the essential elements of a strong regulatory scheme. In most other states where this problematic process has taken off, regulators have been swamped by a gold rush mentality, convinced by the extortionist rhetoric of industry lobbyists that even modest attempts to protect the public will drive away their chance of prosperity.

* Back to the antis

“The gas industry got just about everything they wanted,” said Rau. “Please, everyone: label this monstrosity properly. It’s a DE-regulation bill.”

* To the NRDC, which compiled a list of the bill’s benefits

* Extensive regulation of the drilling process, mandating numerous best practices.
A requirement that all waste – which includes “flowback” of all the chemical-laced water pumped into the ground – be stored in closed tanks, rather than the pits that chronically leak and overflow elsewhere.

* Restrictions on venting and flaring of natural gas (which contains the potent greenhouse gas methane, as well as other harmful constituents, and turns to smog).

* A ban on the dangerous practice of injecting diesel (which contains carcinogenic hydrocarbons).

* Required disclosure of all fracking chemicals to the public before operations commence (and limits on industry’s ability to claim that this information is a trade secret).

* Citizen rights to public hearings concerning proposed permits, and to appeal permits that are granted.

* Citizen enforcement against violations of law or permits.

* Provisions to protect the state’s water supply, including authority to deny permits as necessary during drought conditions.

* Baseline and post-frack testing of potentially affected waters to help identify instances in which contamination may be associated with fracking.

* A presumption of liability for contamination that appears post-fracking in proximity to operations.

* A detailed application, containing information about planned operations, that must be posted on a state web site.

* Setbacks (albeit not always as large as we believe are necessary) from population centers – including schools, residences, and nursing homes – as well as water resources and nature preserves.

* Mandatory plugging of nearby abandoned wells that can serve as pathways for contamination.

* Regulatory authority to address the problem of earthquakes induced by underground waste injection.

* Bonding and insurance requirements to enhance financial accountability.

I don’t have the scientific background to judge who is right on this, but I’ll take the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council over a group of local NIMBYs any day of the week. And to call this, as the screamers are doing, a “de-regulation” bill is utter nonsense on its very face. Screamers never understand why they’re not taken seriously, even when they make goofy comments like that one.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Small Town Liberal - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:12 pm:

    Kudos to the Sierra Club for using common sense. This is a good foundation for fracking regulation, and can be modified if future problems arise.

    While not completely green, natural gas is cleaner than coal or petroleum, and will lead to reduced carbon emissions. Cheap natural gas is also allowing manufacturing to come back to the states, which we desperately need right now.

    So I’ll side with the doers in not letting perfect be the enemy of good.

  2. - Anonymous-99 - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:16 pm:

    But the “Clean Coal” project that will inject HUGE volumes of carbon dioxide into the ground under high pressure is OK? At least the stuff used for fracturing the rock will not just burp out of the ground and asphyxiate entire areas…

  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:17 pm:

    I’ll second, Rich. The bona fides of Sierra and NRDC are golden with me.

    Let’s not kid ourselves — extracting oil and gas have environmental consequences, and always have.

    But the world has an insatiable demand for energy and until we use less more efficiently we’ll have to take some chances. That includes nuclear and investment into alternatives (other than bio, in my book, which requires too much water for the return).

    And I’m not going out of my way to stop a potential growth industry in Southern Illinois that doesn’t involve prisons.

    If this gets big, Illinois would be wise to look at big energy states like Texas and Oklahoma that have been strictly regulating energy extraction for 100 years.

    In Texas, the Railroad Commission will tell you where and when you can poke a hole in the ground. And if you hit something, they’ll tell you how much you can take out, every month.

    Somehow, back in the nineteen-teens, the Bolshies in Texas state government figured there was a public environmental and conservation interest in regulating the private extraction and transportation of energy. The governor even called out the militia to stop the wildcatters after the great East Shelf was discovered.

    Just watch out for your groundwater, folks. It’s more precious than oil. Or gold, for that matter.

  4. - Downstater - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:24 pm:

    Screamer and Doers.
    I like the term wackos and common sensers.
    Like wordslingers comment about consequences.
    I wonder, how those concerned about migrating birds feel about birds killed by wind turbines.

  5. - Small Town Liberal - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:34 pm:

    - burp out of the ground and asphyxiate entire areas… -

    Red herring. We already inject billions of cubic feet of natural gas into the ground at very high pressure every year, and have for many years. Illinois in particular has a high concentration of aquifer fields spread throughout the entire state.

    Do you hear of huge natural gas “burbs” with devastating effects each year? Didn’t think so.

    CO2 injection will be the same process, the gas is pumped into pourous limestone thousands of feet underground and is trapped by displaced water.

    Try researching before succumbing to hysteria.

  6. - ArchPundit - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:37 pm:

    That’s a good compromise. It’s not perfect–the setback issue could be better, but it does several things that are critical. Public input and Public enforcement–so if the state isn’t doing it’s job, citizens can take action.

    A presumption of liability for post fracking contamination! That’s not something the gas industry wanted.

    Limits the trade secrets bit where companies have essentially hidden what they are pumping into the ground by saying it’s a trade secret.

    Sierra Club and NRDC did a great job here.

  7. - JoeVerdeal - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:38 pm:

    Rich…..Your analysis is absolutely spot on!!

    I would respectfully suggest, however, that the groups are not “local NIMBY’s.” They are out of the area intruders who are attempting to influence development in White, Hamilton, Saline, Gallatin and Wayne counties.

    The leadership of these groups tends to live in Carbondale and the surrounding areas and points north.

    These folks are not at all interested in reaching any sort of agreement that would stand a chance of allowing proper development of whatever potential that shale oil and gas might offer in Illinois.

    They have made enough noise to convince me that they might have had the ability to contribute reasonable ideas to the debate, if they had been willing to be less rigid.

  8. - Downstate Illinois - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:41 pm:

    The antis are idiots. The group in Southern Illinois is led by members of a Sufi hippie commune who are opposed to oil period, though they still drive cars. You know they’re radical and not to be considered when they make the Sierra Club and NRDC look moderate.

    Of course, we could have had the oil boom start last year if it wasn’t for those so-called moderates who killed the bill last session.

  9. - Ahoy! - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:50 pm:

    Just to play devils advocate, but isn’t the natural gas industry a large contributor to the Sierra Club?

  10. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:51 pm:

    This is one of those things I think we should let the locals decide. I wouldn’t want it going on in my backyard, but it’s not happening there so I see no reason to tell people in Southern Illinois they can’t have these jobs.

  11. - 47th Ward - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 2:58 pm:

    In fairness, it’s way more fun to be a screamer. You never have to do anything except complain.

    Being a doer, on the other hand, requires some effort. You have to go to meetings, and write memos, and organize others, and do research and you know, work.

  12. - Nuance - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 3:04 pm:

    Well stated, couldn’t agree more.

  13. - Huh? - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 3:13 pm:

    How is IDNR going to regulate and monitor the fracking? Their budget has been chopped to bits that they can’t even maintain what they have, much less take on an entirely new industry.

  14. - Rich Miller - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 3:14 pm:

    ===How is IDNR going to regulate and monitor the fracking?===

    There’s a new fee in the bill.

  15. - Keyser Soze - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 4:02 pm:

    The Illinois fracking controversy flows from the growing interest in the New Albany shale in southern Illinois. Ironically, the shale unit is not as yet a proven producer. Thus this may ultimately be all for naught.

  16. - Susiejones - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 4:14 pm:

    the Sierra Club and NRDC did a good job here and I applaud Jack Darin and others who worked on it. Too often opponents on an issue do let the perfect get in the way of the good as Small Town Liberal said.

  17. - titan - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 4:24 pm:

    Fracking isn’t entirely new tech. And I’m not aware of any great issues with it in other places - if done well.

    Does anyone here know of problems elsewhere reliably tied to fracking done to reasonable standards?

  18. - Sunshine - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 4:35 pm:

    Word is right about fresh water being worth more than gold.

    For many years, a good number of those drilling wells in southern Illinois did so without regard for fresh water zones. Now, many areas there have contaminated fresh water zones, so much so it is undrinkable.

    That happened because many ignored the requirement of setting and cementing in surface casing through fresh water zones. They ignored common sense and regulations.

    Fracking has the potential to be far more devastating to fresh water aquifers and river reservoir systems because today’s techniques and technology is far more powerful and influential in the substrata.

    Regulations must be specific and very, very strictly enforced…especially the chemicals permitted to be used in the process.

    I’m glad to see the Sierra Club and NRDC working toward a solution, though it may not be perfect, at least its a good beginning.

  19. - Going nuclear - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 5:02 pm:

    The fracking legislation appears to be a good compromise, but I think it is wrong to stereotype the grassroots as “screamers” and “NIMBYs.” Yes, some of the opponents are against any form of fracking, but others have legitimate concerns because this is a relatively new technology and we don’t have all the answers on its environmental and community impacts. There have been policy differences in the past between the professional environmentalists and community-based groups. The professional groups tend to be made up of lawyers, technicians and lobbyists based in Chicago. They have their own agendas that don’t always coincide with the grassroots groups who are operating at a different level. I understand the environmentalists were walking a fine line and that a moratorium was not going to fly politically. As we gain more experience with regulating fracking operations, let’s not write off the grassroots groups completely and try to address their concerns as best as possible in the permitting process.

  20. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 5:42 pm:

    Symbiotic relationship is a good way of putting it, and the relationship between Establishment Institutions and Activist Groups is in no way unique to the envirommental movement.

    Humane Society, meet PETA.
    NAACP, meet the Black Panthers.
    GOP, meet the Tea Party.

    Four iimportant things to understand:

    1) The Institutions depend on Activists as the tip of the spear to move an issue forward, as far as humanly possible.

    2) the Activists depend on the Institutions to be at the table, negotiate and “cut a deal” or there is no lasting change.

    3) with few exceptions, the Institutions were all “radical” Activists at some point in history, and the really good Activists will all be “sell out” institutions in time.

    4) when the activists and institutions dont understand this fundamental relationship, or arent collaborating behind the scenes, you get blow-ups like this.

  21. - Kasich Walker, Jr. - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 5:46 pm:

    The March/April 2013 issues of Mother Jones features an investigative article by Michale Behar (”Whose Fault”) which may lead some of you to reconsider your acceptance of Rich’s classification system.

    BTW, Ohio Gov. Kasich takes the risks very seriously.

  22. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 6:28 pm:

    Again, watch our for your groundwater.

    You don’t want to be like eastern Kentucky and West Virginia blowing the tops off of hills and poisoning your water.

    Be careful and good luck.

    Better yet, shake down 2013’s Mr. Peabody to make some long-term investments in your communities before he takes what you have and walks away.

    You’ve all been done this road before with the coal.

    The folks in North Dakota will see oogats long-tem when the gas in gone. Don’t be a chump.

  23. - Kasich Walker, Jr. - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 6:59 pm:

    It’s tempting to label those you disagree with as “extremists” or “screamers” when they refuse to compromise, but why would an abolitionist or suffragette accept compromise?

    Why should those who have seen their homes or communities threatened, if not ruined, by mineral extraction accept compromise?

  24. - Jack Darin - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 9:52 pm:

    Thanks Rich for a good debate on this topic.

    I want to point out two other groups that have done great work to protect Illinois from fracking. Faith in Place is a coalition of churches and congregations that first brought the need to regulate fracking to the General Assembly. The Environmental Law and Policy Center, like NRDC, represented the environmental groups with tenacity in the discussions that led to this bill.

    I respect and support the individuals and groups who are working and hoping for a ban or a moratorium on fracking in Illinois. However, we owe the people who are living in the parts of our state where fracking is soon to begin the best protection possible. HB2615 is not perfect, but it is in many respects the strongest set of safeguards proposed by any state.

  25. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Feb 25, 13 @ 11:04 pm:

    I’m a geologist (not employed in the resource extraction industry) and have been following the ups and downs of horizontal drilling and fracking for the past several years. The research on impacts is just starting.

    I took the time to read the bill, and, while it could use a few tweeks, it covers the key issues that have arisen in other states. The agreed bill process used by Illinois legislators works well when the key interests are represented, and I think Bradley did quite well with this effort.

    While I appreciate the concerns of those pushing for a moratorium, horizontal drilling and fracking is coming to Illinois and we need to make sure there is a solid regulatory structure from the beginning. As Word pointed out, protecting the groundwater is the most important aspect of this.

  26. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 12:40 am:

    ===but why would an abolitionist or suffragette accept compromise?===

    You offer up such a comparison and then wonder why people don’t take you seriously?


  27. - Small Town Liberal - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 8:14 am:

    - You offer up such a comparison and then wonder why people don’t take you seriously? -

    Not to mention both groups accepted plenty of compromise in the grind to achieve their goals.

    If the ball is moving in your favor, it’s probably not in your best interest to postpone the game.

  28. - Kasich Walker, Jr. - Tuesday, Feb 26, 13 @ 6:58 pm:

    “You offer up such a comparison and then wonder why people don’t take you seriously?”

    I’m not sure why you wouldn’t consider hazards created by mineral extractions (fresh water threatened; earthquakes in areas that have been stable prior to the injection of fracking waste water) and fossil fuels (global warming) comparable.

  29. - anelogue - Thursday, Feb 28, 13 @ 5:52 pm:

    A moratorium would be the smartest solution. You don’t want to gamble with our drinking water supply and those doing the fracking have hundreds of violations and counting in PA. You don’t really think the companies will care about our rules do you? That being said, rules are better than no rules. Natural gas is just a quick fix. A solution that is non-renewable. Kind of stupid don’t you think when we have safer options out there that won’t pour methane into the air and water.

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