SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) -- The Illinois State Senate has passed unanimously, and sent to the state House of Representatives, a bill that would regulate "fracking," the process used to obtain access to deep natural gas reserves.
As WBBM Newsradio's David Roe reports, the Senate on Thursday approved the bill by a vote of 54-0 to regulate fracking – technically called hydraulic fracturing. The bill came amid reports that energy companies are in a torrid push to explore possible drilling sites in southern Illinois, long known for its rich below-ground coal and oil reserves.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's David Roe reports
Senate Bill 3280 would allow the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to regulate fracking hat cracks open fissures in southern Illinois' roughly 4,500-foot-deep New Albany Shale and other formations to get to trapped oil and natural gas.
The bill would also require energy companies to disclose the chemical compositions used in the fracturing fluids.
The Department of Natural Resources would also be allowed to test the integrity of the cement and steel well casings meant to protect groundwater during drilling.
The legislation also would require energy companies to disclose the chemical makeup of the fracturing fluids and to test the integrity of the cement and steel well casings meant to protect groundwater during drilling.
In hydraulic fracturing, which has been around for decades, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into wells to break up underground rock formations and create escape routes for the oil and gas. In recent years, the industry has learned to combine the practice with the ability to drill horizontally into beds of shale, layers of fine-grained rock that in some cases have trapped ancient organic matter that has cooked into oil and gas.
By doing so, drillers have unlocked natural gas deposits across the East, South and Midwest that are large enough to supply the U.S. for decades. Natural gas prices have dipped to decade-low levels, reducing customer bills and prompting manufacturers who depend on the fuel to expand operations in the U.S.
Yet environmental groups and other critics believe the chemicals have polluted drinking water supplies. In 2010, filmmaker Josh Fox documented serious concerns about fracking across the country in the documentary "Gasland," after he was asked personally to lease his land for drilling.
Some of the most sensational images in "Gasland" show flames erupting around water running from a sink spigot in a Pennsylvania town near a fracking site.
The industry says there is no proof that fracking is dangerous.
Some activists say the Illinois bill is actual too weak. It was panned by Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment, a grassroots group that wants fracking outlawed in the region until all of the environmental ramifications are sorted out.
"I think it's a very weak bill that does nothing to protect the people of Illinois," SAFE's Chuck Paprocki said. "I don't see anything in his bill that would hold the oil companies accountable."
Countered sponsor state Sen. Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign), "I think no piece of legislation makes everyone happy. (But) I think we've struck a nice balance between the concerns of environmentalists and new industry."
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