Hydraulic fracking ban moves along in Florida Senate, despite critics

For the past couple of years in Tallahassee, state lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have supported banning the oil and gas-drilling process known as fracking — yet they haven’t gotten a bill passed into law.

Lawmakers are trying again, though the anti-fracking bills this legislative session are not all the same.

Take for instance the committee bill that passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Monday on a party line vote.

It would ban hydraulic fracking when it involves large volumes of fluids being injected into rock formations at a high-rate of pressure.

But the legislation does not address another form of fracking called matrix acidizing, much to the ire of environmental advocates.

Matrix acidizing has been described as using many of the same chemicals used in fracking to dissolve rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid.

In general, supporters say fracking produces new sources of energy, while critics call it a dangerous activity that hurts the environment – and could potentially lead to earthquakes.

In Florida’s capital, much of the discussion at Monday’s agriculture committee hearing in the Senate was not on the bill itself, but on three amendments which were introduced by two Republican state senators: Committee chairman Ben Albritton from Wauchula, and Doug Broxson from the Panhandle area.

Broxson’s amendment would prohibit using certain acids in wells. It was trashed by both supporters and critics alike of and was ultimately withdrawn.

“We have no interest in changing any rules around the current water well drilling,” said Michelle Allen with Clean Water Watch. “We’ve been pretty clear from the beginning that we only want the Legislature to pass a bill banning fracking techniques: hydraulic fracturing; acid fracking and matrix acidizing.”

An appeals court last month ordered the state to issue a permit to a Broward County landowner who wants to drill an exploratory oil well in the Everglades.

Saying he had heard the concerns of the public about drilling in the Everglades from last week’s committee hearing, chairman Albritton introduced an amendment that would increase the bonding requirement for companies drilling in the Everglades from $100,000 to $500,000 per well.

It also increased the cost of a “blanket” permit from $1 million to $5 million, and it increased the penalties for failure to follow the Department of Environmental Protection rules from $10,000 per offense to $50,000 per offense. It also banned any oil refining in the Everglades.

“The goal here is that it would increase the safety of the above ground portions of the operation,” Albritton said. That amendment did pass — so it became part of the legislation that will move forward in the Legislature.

“This is a very risky proposition,” said state Sen. Kevin Rader,  a Democrat from Palm Beach County one of the dissenters.

Afterwards, the Florida Democratic Party issued a statement denouncing the vote, calling it a “sham” bill.

“Today, Senate Republicans on the Agriculture Committee gave a wet, dirty kiss to the fossil fuel industry,” said party spokesman Kevin Donahoe. “Republican senators should be ashamed for betraying Florida’s proud, bipartisan tradition of protecting our environment.”

There are other bills in Legislature that address banning fracking, including a measure sponsored by state Sen. Bill Montford, Democrat from North Florida. His bill calls for banning matrix acidizing.

 

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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