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Judge hears arguments over fracking rules

EDWARDSVILLE — A judge began weighing Tuesday a request from a group of landowners to at least delay Illinois’ new rules for high-volume oil and gas drilling from taking effect.

Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder’s decision to take the matter under advisement came after more than two hours of debate between the landowners’ attorneys — who argued the state’s rules were procedurally flawed — and state attorneys, who countered the public had sufficient input.

Crowder likely will decide whether to put the rules on hold by Friday, when the Illinois Secretary of State’s office could publish them. Department of Natural Resources attorney Joshua Ratz argued that the rules actually were official when a legislative panel approved of the DNR-crafted rules Nov. 6 to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

The southern Illinois landowners sued last week, claiming the DNR violated several procedures as it wrote the rules, didn’t consider scientific studies and had no representative available to answer questions at statewide public hearings.

“(The DNR) did not do what they were supposed to do. Now they have to go back and do it right,” Penni Livingston, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in pressing Crowder to perhaps invalidate the rules altogether. “This is perhaps the scariest environmental issue that’s ever been raised in Illinois.”

Fracking generally uses a mixture of water, chemicals and sand to crack rock formations deep underground and release trapped oil and gas. Opponents fear it can cause air and water pollution and health problems. Industry officials and other backers of the method contend the method is safe and will create badly needed jobs in southern Illinois.

Livingston argued no DNR representative was available to answer residents’ questions at public hearings; Ratz countered that those people weren’t obligated to field questions. Livingston also said some citizens were denied admission to or a chance to speak at the meetings.

Ratz said public input was sufficient, noting more than 30,000 public comments.

“It cannot be said the public did not have ample opportunity to have their voices known and heard,” he said, arguing there’s no pressing need for an injunction because applications from would-be drillers won’t come for another month and that each would undergo a lengthy permit process.

“There is no burning house that needs to be put out,” he said.

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