Illinois Proposed Closed Loop Drilling Rules Comments

October 17,2013

Honorable Members of Joint Committee on Administrative Rules {JCAR) Dear Member:

This letter is a follow-up to my correspondence to JCAR dated September 13.

The Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) is the national trade association representing the geothermal heat pump industry.

At issue is adoption of a Final Rulemaking on regulation of the drilling industry in the state,Rule (JCAR770902-1217308r02). If implemented in its current form,we believe the rule would greatly impede future deployment of geothermal heat pumps by severely limiting the use of ground loop heat exchangers.

GEO thanks you for granting a 45-day extension prior to a final rulemaking, which allowed an opportunity for me to meet with Illinois Department of Public Health staff regarding our concerns.

And though we achieved compromise on 3 of the 4 issues at hand,we believe that proposed closed loop setback requirements for closed loop wells listed on Table C of the code are unrealistic and damaging to our industry because:

  1. Given relatively small front and back yards,it would make the installation of geothermal heat pumps in metropolitan areas of Illinois virtually impossible.
  2. Boreholes for geothermal closed loops are sealed during construction (remaining open only for a few minutes during the initial project starts) any possibility for them to become potential contamination is nonexistent.
  3. The setback suggested is entirely arbitrary,based on installation of water wells, with no science to back it up from the standpoint of geothermal closed loop boreholes.
  4. The regulation would be a “job killer” for geothermal heat pump contractors and loop installation companies.
  5. Even with a variance to allow a sewer line setback of less than 50 feet, it is doubtful that health departments will grant variances to state code;the paperwork involved would likely kill projects and sales.

Finally,it is of utmost importance to consider the geothermal industry’s use of specialized grout for enhanced thermal conductivity of ground loops and to seal the system from the environment. The geothermal heat pump industry has been the driving force behind technological advances in the efficiencies of thermal grout for closed loop boreholes. The industry standard has evolved from little or no grout in geoexchange loop fields (and little protection of ground water) to today’s industry standard practice of grouting every borehole from bottom to top with state-of-the-art grouting materials to enhance thermal exchange and to protect the ground water. A grouted borehole is ample protection of the groundwater-and a 10- foot setback from any potential contaminate is sufficient.

For all of these reasons, GEO asks that JCAR establish a 10-foot setback instead of the 50-foot setback that is currently under consideration.


Doug Dougherty
President and CEO
Geothermal Exchange Organization