Outdoor enthusiasts, tourists, climbers and backpackers at Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area near Herod, Ill. Southern Illinoisans have hopes and fears surrounding the high-volume oil and gas drilling that may be starting in the Shawnee National Forest. (Seth Perlman~AP)
UPDATE 11:15 AM MAY 21, 2013: The Illinois House Executive Committee unanimously passed the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act (Senate Bill 1715).
After a year of negotiations over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Illinois, a compromise that could be a model for the nation is snagged over a simple question.
What exactly is fracking, anyway?
Fracking is a new blend of older technologies that accesses previously unavailable oil and natural gas. You could try defining it like pornography: You know it when you see it. But that's not good enough for industry - which wants to ensure traditional drilling isn't suddenly hampered by new regulations - or for environmentalists, who fear some fracking companies might try to dodge new environmental protections by claiming what they are doing isn't fracking after all.
A group of people representing the various sides of the issue is scheduled to meet Friday morning to see if they can hammer out a definition that satisfies everyone.
Everyone thought they had a deal earlier this year after months of discussions among industry, environmentalists, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, labor, staff members for the Senate and House leadership, key legislators and the Illinois attorney general. Gov. Pat Quinn hailed what they came up with as a model for the nation.
Then the operating engineers' union threw a monkey wrench into the deal by insisting on changes that would benefit their members. That's been addressed with a small tax break that encourages frackers to hire Illinois workers.
So now all that remains is to settle the definition of fracking. The issue came up after environmentalists saw language used in Colorado that seemed to open a loophole in Illinois' working definition, which is based on water use.
Other fracking bills introduced in this session would create a moratorium for two years, allowing more research into the environmental and health effects of fracking. But the moratorium doesn't have much momentum in Springfield.
In fact, all the fracking bills have missed deadlines and on paper appear dead for now. But if negotiators can work out a revised deal, enough major players would be behind it to push it through anyway, using the usual legislative tricks.
A solution could come Friday. If not, talks could drag on for a long time.
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