By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is going to use the carrot and not the stick to get oil and gas companies to hire local, union workers if and when the drillers come to the state.
A new agreement reached Wednesday at the statehouse that sets rules for high-volume hydraulic fracturing has the backing of organized labor, including the Operating Engineers Local 150, which had been holding up Illinois’ proposed fracking regulations.
Ed Maher, communications director for the Operating Engineers Local 150, did not offer any specifics or explanation about the agreement that brought the union on-board.
“Local 150 has been among the parties involved in negotiations toward providing incentives for hydraulic fracturing firms to utilize Illinois’ skilled workforce,” was all Maher would say in an email.
Maher did say the local union is satisfied with the new deal.
Mark Denzeler, vice president for the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said the deal will offer “incentives” to oil and gas drillers to hire “local” workers.
“We finally reached this agreement whereby companies can get a small tax incentive for hiring a certain percentage of Illinois workers,” Denzler explained.
Almost every other major union in the state was on board with Illinois’ original fracking legislation months ago.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process that uses water or other liquid to fracture underground rock formations to tap oil and natural gas that previously was too expensive, or too difficult, to access.
Denzler said the new agreement also wipes away some lingering doubts from Illinois’ most prominent environmental groups.
“It got down to how do you define high-volume,hydraulic fracturing?” Denzler said. “So went spent a couple of weeks ironing out a compromise.”
The new definition zeroes-in on the amount of water or fluid a drilling company can use to be considered high-volume hydraulic fracturers. Environmental groups wanted to ensure e that smaller fracking operations were held to the same reporting requirements as larger operators.
Denzler said the environmental protections in Illinois’ fracking regulations are “the most comprehensive hydraulic fracturing practices in the country.”
Brad Richards, president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association, said he hopes Illinois now can move quickly to approve the fracking legislation.
“The industry is ready and willing to explore and produce in Illinois under the negotiated agreement,” Richard added.
The Illinois House could vote as early as this week on the proposal to regulate and tax the emerging industry.
Illinois lawmakers have just three weeks left in their spring legislative session.
Gov. Pat Quinn has not weighed in on the new fracking agreement, but in the past has said fracking could bring many badly needed jobs to Illinois.
Fracking supporters say as many 50,000 jobs could be created in the state.
Listen to the full interview with the IMA’s Mark Denzler: Denzler on Fracking
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @ILWatchdog.