SPRINGFIELD — When Gov. Pat Quinn signed sweeping legislation last year to regulate hydraulic fracturing, he was joined by business groups in saying the controversial oil and natural gas drilling process would mean thousands of jobs in hard-hit rural areas of downstate Illinois.
But with the rules for fracking still not finalized, oil producers, drilling companies and geologists who work in the industry are shunning the governor and putting their money behind the gubernatorial campaign of wealthy Republican businessman Bruce Rauner.
On July 9, dozens of oil company officials attended a fundraiser for the Republican at a Mount Vernon restaurant.
Records show the political newcomer netted nearly $240,000 for his stop at the Rare Chop House that day, with most of the largesse coming from companies that have been waiting for the state to get the permitting process up and running.
On Friday, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is set to submit the proposed fracking rules to a special legislative panel. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules then has 45 days to sign off on what the agency has developed.
If the rules are approved, companies would then be able to begin applying for drilling permits.
For the oil industry, however, it's too little, too late.
Nelson Wood, a Mount Vernon-based oil producer who co-hosted the fundraiser, said his colleagues are tired of being idle.
"We just think Bruce Rauner will be the better choice. There's a lot of consternation out there," Wood said Wednesday. "The governor should have gotten this going a year ago.
State Rep. David Reis, a Willow Hill Republican whose district is the epicenter of the Illinois oil and gas fields, said producers are angry at the governor.
"The oil industry is beside itself with Pat Quinn. Rauner has made it clear that the oil industry and the jobs are a priority," Reis said.
The money rush for Rauner shows the peril of some political moves in Springfield. While the fracking legislation was the product of a hard-fought agreement between environmental groups like the Sierra Club and business groups like the Illinois Manufacturers Association, as well as politicians such as Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a number of organizations remain staunchly opposed to fracking.
Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, for example, was among groups that picketed Quinn at the Illinois State Fair, urging him to ban fracking altogether.
In signing the legislation last year, Quinn set in motion what has become a bureaucratic slog.
Lengthy public hearings brought opponents to the forefront of the debate as they flooded the agency with questions and comments about the safety of allowing chemicals to be forced into the ground in order to extract oil and gas.
The same business groups that stood with Quinn when he signed the law soon claimed the governor had instructed IDNR to move slowly in writing the rules in order to keep fracking out of the limelight until after the election.
In a recent interview, DNR Director Marc Miller dismissed the accusation, saying it took time to wade through the testimony.
"We had 43,000 pages of comments," Miller told the Lee Enterprises Springfield bureau. "Our job at the agency is to follow the law and implement the law and that's what we have to do."
Miller said he believes the rules will be adopted in time to meet a statutory mid-November deadline — a date that falls after voters choose between Rauner and Quinn.
Wood, who has contributed $6,000 to Rauner, said he's been involved in the oil boom that has created an economic surge in North Dakota.
"We have the potential for the same thing to happen in Illinois," Wood said. "We're being held back in Illinois. Some people have already left."