SPRINGFIELD | Without any ceremony, Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed into law a plan to permit and regulate high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing — referred to as "fracking" — is a process that uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack rock formations to release oil and natural gas.
Proponents expect use of this drilling process in the New Albany shale area in southeastern Illinois.
Quinn's action Monday was not a surprise because the Democratic governor in late May called for the Illinois House and Senate to approve the measure. Lawmakers did so in the final two days of the spring legislative session.
"This new law will unlock the potential for thousands of jobs in Southern Illinois and ensure that our environment is protected," Quinn said in a prepared statement. "Hydraulic fracturing is coming to Illinois with the strongest environmental regulations in the nation."
State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, House sponsor and a chief negotiator on the legislation, said it "creates the strongest, toughest regulations for regulating high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the United States but does so in a way that allows industry to develop responsibly."
Another House sponsor, state Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, said, "We're glad that the governor acted quickly on this."
Although the law takes effect immediately, state agencies have to develop rules and procedures before they can issue drilling permits, Reis said, estimating that it could take months.
"Our goal is to do this as quickly as possible so we can create jobs and have the economic development in southern Illinois while we are also putting in place the strongest environmental regulations in the country," said Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which will issue the drilling permits.
"It's good we can get started on that as quickly as possible and still send a message to the industry that we are ready for you to come here to Illinois and do this in a responsible manner," Reis said.
Proponents say that the measure will create "tens of thousands of good, high-paying jobs" in manufacturing, mining, trucking, rail, engineering and road building.
"I anticipate fracking may become Illinois' gold rush by creating thousands of jobs and bringing billions to our economy," said another co-sponsor, state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro.
"Gone are the days where it is environment versus jobs," Miller said. "I think with Governor Quinn's leadership, we can have strong environmental protections as well as job creation by making sure we do things right."
But opponents have argued that the jobs created will be dangerous, unhealthy and short-lived, and that southern Illinois will be left with spoiled water, air and communities.
"Governor Quinn has just condemned the families in the path of this destruction to a horrible fate, and personally, I'm just so ashamed of our state government," said Annette McMichael, a southern Illinois landowner and spokeswoman for two environmental groups opposed to fracking in Illinois, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment and Illinois People's Action.