CHICAGO — State records indicate that high-volume oil drilling already has begun in Illinois, where lawmakers and others are scrambling to pass a bill to establish regulations for a practice that has generated intense national debate as energy companies push into new territory.
Carmi, Ill.-based Campbell Energy LLC submitted a well completion report last June to the Department of Natural Resources, voluntarily disclosing that it used 640,000 gallons of water during hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,’’ of a well in White County.
A regulatory bill awaiting an end-of-session vote by state lawmakers, which wasn’t yet written at the time the well was drilled, defines “high-volume’’ as using 300,000 gallons or more of fluid during all stages of fracking.
The report was obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which shared it with The Associated Press. Phone calls to Campbell Energy on Tuesday and Wednesday seeking comment were not immediately returned.
DNR Director Marc Miller acknowledged that the well in southeastern Illinois would qualify as high-volume under the proposed legislation, but said that his agency would not have checked the report when it was filed because there was nothing on the books to define high-volume fracking.
Companies currently are not required to tell the DNR what method they use to extract oil and gas when they apply for a permit or when the well is finished, but Campbell Energy included that information anyway.
Although the DNR does not know of any other wells that would meet the proposed definition of high-volume, there’s no way to know for sure if there are more.
“This (illustrates) the crux of why we need to have regulations as proposed for hydraulic fracturing,’’ Miller told the AP. “We need to have the regulatory tools before they start drilling to understand what’’ they are doing.
Fracking uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack rock formations deep underground and release oil and natural gas. Proponents say it’s safe and could bring tens of thousands of jobs to southern Illinois. Others fear it could pollute and deplete water resources, and favor a proposed two-year moratorium that has gotten little traction in the Legislature.
Illinois’ proposed regulations, written with the help of industry and environmental groups, have been described as the strictest in the country and include requirements that companies disclose chemicals used and test groundwater before and after fracking. It also would hold industry liable for contamination.
Brad Richards, vice president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association, stressed that Campbell Energy did nothing wrong. And although the volume of fluid was large compared with what has traditionally been used in Illinois — about 100,000 gallons or less per “frack’’ — it pales in comparison to states like North Dakota and Pennsylvania, where it’s not unusual for drillers to use 2 million to 8 million gallons of fluid, he said.
In southern Illinois, companies are eyeing the New Albany shale formation roughly 5,000 feet below the surface in many counties, including White, on the Indiana border. Campbell Energy was fracking in a layer above the New Albany, and did not use nearly as much fluid as drillers likely will to reach New Albany deposits, Richards said.
Industry has said drillers are holding off on high-volume fracking in Illinois until they know what the regulations will be, but technically, there is nothing to stop them.
And it’s unclear how long they would be willing to wait, said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with the NRDC’s Midwest program who helped negotiate Illinois’ proposed regulations.
If lawmakers fail to pass a bill this spring, Alexander said, “I would venture a bet that (industry’s) concern would go from regulatory uncertainty to increasing certainty that Illinois is not getting its act together.’’
But Richards said he doubts companies would be willing to spend a lot of money in Illinois without regulations.
“We should all be able to agree: Go ahead and let’s get the bill passed,’’ he said.
The bill — which represented an unusual level of cooperation over a practice that has drawn emotional protests nationally — passed a key House committee last week but has not yet been called for a vote in the full House. It also would need passage in the Senate and the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn, who has been a strong supporter.
The current legislative session is scheduled to end at midnight Friday.
But Annette McMichael, a Johnson County property owner who belongs to a coalition that opposes fracking, said the White County well represents “exactly why we need a moratorium. We need to stop fracking before it goes any further so we can conduct scientific studies and keep the people of Illinois safe.’’