- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Southern Illinois landowners are suing the state for failing to implement hydraulic fracturing, calling the long-running process for adopting rules governing the oil and gas extraction method tantamount to illegal government seizure of property already leased to developers.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Wayne County on behalf of seven households, names Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller. It comes as the state faces a Nov. 15 deadline for sorting out the rules for how developers would deploy high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” under an Illinois law approved last year.

A legislative panel that has the last word on whether the rules can take effect has put off voting on them until next month as it grapples with how to ensure regulations are fair to industry while protecting the environment.

Insisting that fracking has proven safe elsewhere, the attorney pressing the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, said the state’s continuing delay in issuing permits needlessly has robbed energy-rich Wayne County and the rest of the economically stressed region a would-be boost.

Energy resources “just have been a godsend to that part of the state,” Rod Taylor, a southern Illinois native and Indianapolis-based attorney for the suing landowners, told The Associated Press on Thursday. “Great people, good land and oil and gas - that’s about it there.”

“For the state to come in and arbitrarily curtail issuance of permits when there is no problem is troublesome,” he added. “They have enough rules on board now to issue the permits and allow this development to go forward.”

Chris Young, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the agency has “worked hard to develop rules that protect the environment and provide a fair regulatory framework.” A message left with a Quinn representative was not immediately returned.

Hydraulic fracturing generally uses a mixture of water, chemicals and sand to crack open rock formations thousands of feet underground to release trapped oil and gas. Opponents fear it will pollute and deplete groundwater or cause health problems. The industry counters that the method is safe and would spur economic opportunity by tapping the region’s portion of the sprawling New Albany Shale formation, where they hope significant oil deposits lie 5,000 feet or more below the surface.

The law, once seen as a national model of compromise, has drawn criticism from both advocates and opponents over the rule-making process that has dragged on. Wednesday’s lawsuit claims the waiting has frustrated would-be developers who have spent millions snapping up leases on thousands of acres from southern Illinois mineral-rights owners.

“The failure of defendants to issue permits for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is a taking of property without just compensation,” the lawsuit alleges.

“We’re asking a Wayne County judge to declare that the state has condemned the New Albany Shale, and that we want a good, fair-minded jury to decide what the value of that taking is,” Taylor said. “Right now, (property owners and developers) have been shut down, and the leases are expiring. They didn’t even have a chance to go to bat.”


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