Rose to file bills to protect Mahomet Aquifer: strengthens oversite and regulation of gas companies

Springfield, IL – State Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) will file several pieces of legislation that would strengthen oversight of gas storage sites across the state and strengthen notice requirements if a gas leak occurs.

Rose’s package of legislation comes after it was discovered that a 2016 underground natural gas leak of a storage facility owned and operated by Peoples Gas impacted rural Champaign County. The Mahomet Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for 500,000 Central Illinois residents, providing 53 million gallons of water per year to 120 public water systems and helping supply water for rural wells.

“That natural gas leaked, and the general public and local governments only found out about it by accident, is beyond unacceptable,” Rose said. “Citizens have a right to know what is going on. What happened here is the ‘poster child’ for what not to do and how not to handle a situation. The state and these companies need to be way more proactive to prevent this from happening again and actually be prepared to handle a situation if it does.”

Several separate pieces of legislation will be filed by Rose:

1.) Requires the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to annually inspect underground gas storage sites across the state. These inspections will be paid for by the utilities – not the taxpayers.

2.) Establishes a trust fund to cover costs of remediation in the event of a natural gas leak – so that remediation can begin immediately.

3.) Mandates the DNR to immediately issue notices to local media and to contact people, organizations, and governmental bodies who might be impacted by a leak.

4.) States that companies must consult with third-party environmental remediation experts in the event of an incident to certify their corrective action plans and conduct oversight of the clean-up.

5.) States that companies must file emergency action plans with the DNR so that there is no delay in addressing any onsite emergencies.

6.) Requires the DNR to review all of its current practices regarding oil and gas drilling, and to recommend to the Legislature any ideas for best practices and legislative changes necessary to protect groundwater and air.

7.) Requiring companies to immediately provide freshwater for residential, business, or agricultural purposes to any impacted party and on ongoing basis until such time as any issues are successfully remediated. Failure to do so shall be punishable as a Class 4 Felony Offense.

8.) Several “shell bills” will serve as place holders for potential use with respect to the ongoing Peoples Gas issue in rural Champaign County.

“This is just common sense – and frankly, the fact that the State of Illinois wasn’t already doing this is beyond baffling,” Rose said.

Rose has worked with local groups and organizations for more than a decade to protect the Mahomet Aquifer. He was one of the first local officials to go on record opposing the housing of dangerous PCB wastes in landfills on top of the Aquifer. He recently successfully led the fight to legislatively ban other toxic chemicals from being stored in landfills above the Mahomet Aquifer by requiring scientific sampling of non-hazardous wastes to make sure that toxic substances aren’t also coming into landfills sitting above an aquifer. He has also spoken at numerous conferences and meetings on this topic.

Rose says he plans on holding these pieces of legislation pending the work of the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force, which will convene in February. He says that it’s his hope that these can serve as a beginning for discussion by that Task Force to generate a fuller, more vetted, and comprehensive solution to the Mahomet Aquifer issues.

“That said, I am reserving the right to move forward with these initiatives, this session, if it appears that the Task Force’s work is unproductive,” Rose said. “My hope is that the Task Force will put together a better work-product building on these concepts – but if they do not, I will look to move these legislative initiatives forward.”

He says he will also hold several “shell bills” in case the Illinois Attorney General or the EPA or the DNR decide they need immediate legislative action with respect to the enforcement proceeding currently pending against Peoples Gas.

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