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Fracking Ban Bill Passes First Senate Committee

Mary Crandall Creative Commons

Despite early indications that a proposal to ban fracking in Florida would not advance in the current state legislative session, the bill passed its first senate committee Monday. 

The bill ( SB 462), sponsored by Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, unanimously passed the Senate Environmental and Preservation Committee.  The proposal calls for an outright ban on “advanced well stimulation treatments” including hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing and matrix acidizing.  These well stimulation techniques involve breaking up underground rock formations by blasting them with high-pressure water, acid and other chemicals to extract oil and gas.

An identical bill stalled during last year's state legislative session over concerns that to date, there has been no Florida-specific study documenting the risks of fracking in the state's unique limestone geology.

Since 2013, House Majority Leader Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, has tried, unsuccessfully, to champion bills creating a regulatory framework for the fracking industry in the state.  His most recent proposal in 2016 would have imposed a two-year moratorium on fracking and ordered a Florida-specific study to determine the potential impacts of fracking.  He considers a study to be a crucial element.  In an interview prior to the start of the 2018 legislative session, Rodrigues said, “Without the study, you don’t have the threat and without the compensation in the bill, what you now have is a bill that takes property, which now leaves the taxpayers subject to being challenged for a Burt Harris claim, which is the act that says you can’t take people’s property without paying them.”

“And taxpayers could be on the hook for this.  From my perspective, the study needs to be done or they need to put in the money to compensate the property owners,” said Rodrigues.

However, Senior Environmental Policy Specialist with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Amber Crooks said the risks of surface water and ground water contamination from fracking make the technology incompatible for Florida.  She said it poses too great a risk to human health, the environment and to Florida's economy.

“We need to take a look at the studies that are available and similar to what we have done for offshore drilling, we as Floridians, need to determine what level of risk, given our economy, which is based on real estate and ecotourism, that we’re willing to accept in Florida,” said Crooks.

“I think a majority of Floridians, based on that 90 municipalities that have already passed an ordinance or resolution, would be with us to say that they don’t want to see fracking in Florida.”

Crooks also points to the only documented instance of fracking in Florida as indicative of the problems that come with the technology.  In late 2013, when the Texas-based Dan A. Hughes oil company violated its drilling permit and performed hydraulic fracturing and matrix acidizing on the Collier Hogan well near Immokalee.  The Conservancy continues to work with the Department of Environmental Protection on quarterly water quality monitoring reports because several possible pathways to contamination have been identified.

“Everything from a canal potentially being contaminated with oil waste from a dumpster on site to the old abandoned wells that were within a couple hundred feet of the Collier Hogan well that were not properly plugged and abandoned to today’s standards, to the illegal disposal of more 80 barrels of oily waste water back into the well itself,” said Crooks.  “These are all pathways of contamination that we saw just in that one well.”

Crooks also said 35 truckloads containing more than 200,000 gallons of toxic wastewater byproduct from the Collier Hogan well fracking incident was transported to Raider Environmental Services in Opa-Locka for disposal, but because the source of the water or its potential contaminants was not disclosed, the waste water wasn’t properly treated and an unknown quantity of the contaminated water ended up in the ocean.

In past years, opponents of a fracking ban have touted the economic benefits of energy independence and stoked fears about high gas prices.

However, the Conservancy’s Amber Crooks countered that the quantity and quality of Florida’s oil is not that significant.

“As an example, we produce one quarter of one percent of the oil production in the United States and that oil, because if its poor quality, it isn’t going to gasoline,” said Crooks.

“It’s going to things like asphalt.  It’s being sent overseas.  So our question is, ‘Is it worth the risk to our water quality, to our drinking water supply and for Everglades restoration, and our tourism economy and our real estate economy to try and get that one tenth of one percent of that oil out of the ground using these risky techniques?’  We don’t think so.”

Monday's senate committee vote comes less than a week after hundreds of Floridians converged on Tallahassee to rally support for the bill.  It now moves to the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources.  The bill’s House companion measure ( HB 237), sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-St. Petersburg, has yet to be voted on by any committee despite having 19 co-sponsors in the House.

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John Davis has been a full-time Reporter/Producer for WGCU since 2009. He is the local host for NPRââââ