Fracking in Illinois: Implementation of the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act and Local Government Regulatory Authority
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High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) is a relatively new means of drilling for oil and gas resources. With the knowledge that the oil and gas industry was purchasing land leases in southern Illinois and beginning to introduce fracking activities in the state, and that such activities would not be regulated under existing state law, Illinois legislators collaborated with industry and environmental interests to develop and pass the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act (HFRA or Act) in 2013. While this legislation has been considered by some to be among one of the most stringent and protective in the nation, many environmental interests and citizens opposed to fracking, nevertheless, remain extremely concerned over the potential public health, environmental and economic harms that result from these activities. In particular, although fracking may provide environmental and economic benefits to the state as a whole and to local communities, the environmental and economic harms will be felt primarily within local communities. The HFRA specifically provides municipalities with the right to regulate fracking by requiring a permit applicant to obtain approval from the municipality, but limits the rights of counties, where the majority of fracking activities will likely occur, to expressing concerns during the public comment period and requesting a public hearing on the permit application. This Comment discusses the potential benefits and harms of fracking to the state and local communities, and then examines the existing rights of both municipalities and counties to exert control over the development of fracking within their local communities through the Home Rule provision of the State Constitution, the HFRA, and other existing laws. After considering the historically negative attitudes about county government, and how such attitudes may have impacted the rights of counties provided in the Act by those drafting the HFRA, the Comment argues that such attitudes are archaic and do not reflect current county government construction and powers. The Comment then presents the current extent of local control available through existing zoning authority and, finally, offers several approaches that interested counties might pursue in an attempt to obtain regulatory authority similar to that already provided to local municipalities in Illinois.