© 2012 E&E Publishing, LLC
Reprinted with permission

By Ellen M. Gilmer

Hydraulic fracturing rules moving through the Illinois Statehouse this session have taken their cue from model legislation supported by an influential conservative think tank.

The Illinois chemical disclosure legislation, which passed unanimously through the state Senate last week, includes language that copies almost verbatim a new Texas law and a subsequent model bill from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

The language originated in Texas in 2011 and requires well operators to reveal chemicals used in the fracking process, which shoots sand, water and chemicals into the ground to release gas. An exception, heavily favored by the industry, allows companies to protect qualified chemical concoctions as trade secrets. Those exceptions can be challenged by certain landowners and state agencies.

ALEC members, who meet three times a year to discuss policy trends and propose legislation, used the Texas bill to draft a model last year. The draft is available as a resource for all members of the organization.

Dan Eichholz, associate director of the Illinois Petroleum Council — a state office of the American Petroleum Institute — said the council consulted with ALEC when negotiating disclosure requirements of the Illinois bill. ALEC did not approach the council first, he added.

“I don’t think it really makes a difference which group it comes from,” he said, noting that the Illinois bill, introduced by Democratic state Sen. Michael Frerichs, has received support from the oil and gas industry, environmentalists and the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Jack Darin, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club, said he supported the legislation as a good starting point to regulate not-yet-blooming fracking action in Illinois.

“This is a really rare opportunity for us to actually get it right from the beginning,” he said. Oil and gas companies working in the state are reportedly drilling their first test wells in southern Illinois this month to see how much shale gas is available. It makes sense, Darin said, for legislators to look for best practices from other states, like Texas.

That is the purpose of any model bill, said Todd Wynn, director of ALEC’s energy, environment and agriculture task force, who wrote in a March blog post that the chemical disclosure model was also catching on in Indiana, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“ALEC model bills are example bills which can easily be tailored by a state legislator to fit his or her constituents needs,” he wrote in an email to EnergyWire.

The source bill in Texas was widely supported last year by groups as varied as the Environmental Defense Fund and well operator Southwest Resources Inc. Ultimately, the bill received 137 votes in favor with eight legislators opposed and two present but not voting.

Ky Ash, chief of staff to bill sponsor Rep. Jim Keffer (R), said the disclosure requirements were “highly negotiated” but did not face interference from ALEC. The council support of the chemical disclosure bill came “completely after the fact,” he said.

He encouraged other states to copy the Texas language and adjust it for their needs. “Why reinvent the wheel entirely,” he asked, “when someone’s already gone through the tough battles?”

Alex Mills, president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, which represents small and midsized companies, added that duplication of language across states is business-friendly.

“If they can follow the Texas Legislature,” he said, “it would make it easier on companies that operated in multiple states.”

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