Fracking, Illinois, and New York: A Tale of Two States

Illinois and New York have a lot in common when it comes to how they approach shale development.

Both states have poor rural areas with vast energy potential that could be unleashed by the revolutionary advancements in horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Both states have shown a frustrating lack of urgency in taking advantage of their potential – much to the chagrin of the rural regions in dire need of a financial boost. Illinois took more than 500 days to complete its fracking regulations, while New York’s political leaders dithered six years before finally making a decision.

Both states’ delays were the result of deliberate manipulation of the public commenting process by anti-fracking activists.

Both states also have governors who initially supported shale development before becoming indecisive on the issue.

Fortunately, there is one thing Illinois does not have in common with New York when it comes to fracking: After a six-year moratorium, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently decided to permanently ban fracking in that state, a decision that has been roundly criticized by objective observers.

As the Wall Street Journal recently editorialized:

[A]ll of the Governor’s men couldnt find conclusive evidence that fracking presents a significant risk to public health or the environment. So they’re going to ban fracking until they do. The truth is that fracking has been taking place around the country for many years without evidence of environmental harm. Even the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which desperately wants to find it, has uncovered no credible evidence that fracking causes groundwater contamination.”

In sharp contrast, fracking can now begin in Illinois after the long-awaited finalization of the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act’s administrative rules.

And Illinois has the industry’s willingness to negotiate and compromise with mainstream environmental groups to thank for the latter.

Illinois could have easily found itself in the same boat as New York if not for those compromises, many of which were criticized at the time. Instead, New York is being criticized for taking the wrong approach on hydraulic fracturing, while Illinois has a path forward.

In both cases, anti-fracking groups called for fracking moratoriums until “further studies” could be conducted to determine safety. But folks in Illinois knew full well that such language was a poorly-cloaked call for a permanent ban, which is why so many people – from both sides of the aisle – fought the push for a moratorium from the start. New York went the moratorium route, which proved to be a slippery slope leading to a permanent ban. New York will no doubt now become the model of success for the anti-fracking movement, even as the state hypocritically benefits from natural gas produced elsewhere.

Granted, the tradeoff for Illinois’ strategy wasn’t always pleasant. A brutal and drawn-out negotiation process ensued, a process about which each party involved was ultimately left unhappy.

Mark Denzler of the Illinois Manufacturers Association called the negotiations “easily” the most technical and detailed he’s been involved with in 20 years in Springfield. They were historical negotiations as well, as labor, industry, mainstream environmental groups and agricultural leaders joined in support of HVHF legislation. The GROW-IL coalition, Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Gov. Pat Quinn, Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Illinois Environmental Council were all involved in negotiations.

Not exactly a group that runs in the same social circles — which is a major reason why the negotiations took three years to finalize.

But the result was “by far” the toughest, most comprehensive set of regulations in the country, according to Denzler.

Another long delay followed due to the IDNR’s rule-making process. The IDNR’s first set of rules was viewed as too lax by environmentalists, while its second set of rules was deemed unworkable by industry leaders. But the third time proved to be a charm, as rules industry leaders believe are tough but workable were approved in November and HVHF finally became a reality in Illinois.

Better late than never, for sure, as it has been estimated shale development could produce as many as many as 47,000 jobs, $9.5 billion in economic activity and millions of dollars in tax revenue for a state that desperately needs a boost.

New York is in a similar situation in terms of economic potential. But it has chosen to sit on its considerable natural gas potential, a hypocritical move considering it is the fifth largest consumer per capita of natural gas in the U.S.

The justification for New York’s fracking ban? The New York Department of Health determined there was not enough scientific evidence to prove HVHF is safe. It made the decision despite having no evidence linking HVHF to health impacts, because no credible source has come up with any proof that well-regulated fracking poses a credible threat to public health.

The New York Daily News summed it up best:  “Fracking has one proven effect. It creates jobs.”

Gov. Cuomo and the NYDOH made their decision based largely on unfounded information from debunked reports and activist literature, choosing to ignore numerous studies that show fracking is safe when well regulated.

Cuomo’s own New York Department of Environmental Conservation agreed with the latter assessment as recently as 2011, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama Administration agree fracking can be done safely and provide a tremendous boost to the economy.

But despite the overwhelming evidence of fracking’s positive effects, New York has decided to stifle its economy and energy potential to appease a small group of radical environmentalists.

Residents in Illinois, meanwhile, will likely welcome the new jobs and tax revenue.


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