House, Senate differ on ‘fracking' bans

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As Gov. Ron DeSantis supports a “fracking” ban in Florida, competing measures to prevent the controversial oil-drilling technique were approved Wednesday by House and Senate panels with far different levels of support.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously backed a fracking-ban bill (SB 314) that is sponsored by committee Chairman Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and favored by conservationists. Meanwhile, the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee, in a 9-6 vote, approved its version (PCB ANRS 19-01).

The House proposal has drawn scorn from environmental groups for not going far enough, though it is also opposed by the Florida Petroleum Council, which supports fracking.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations, allowing natural gas and oil to be released. While supporters say fracking increases production and holds down energy costs, opponents argue it threatens water supplies and can cause environmental damage.

Environmentalists object to the House bill because of a definition of fracking as injecting a “high rate” of fluids into the ground.

Aliki Moncrief, executive director of the Florida Conservation Voters, said the definition excludes a technique called “matrix acidizing,” which utilizes many of the same chemicals used in the fracking process.

“Definitions matter, they require clarity because they have to pass the test of time,” Moncrief told the House panel. “You all know probably 1,000 times better than I do that a law banning fracking will be picked apart. Special interests who disagree with the intent of banning fracking, they’re going to look for every loophole they can find so that the law doesn’t apply to them.”

Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican who chairs the panel and is handling the House bill, called the proposal a “step in the right direction,” while saying after the meeting she’s willing to discuss clarifying the language.

“I think that we need to take a deep dive and make sure that whatever we do is not going to create consequences later on, greater issues later on,” Raschein said.

Both proposals advanced after DeSantis last month released environmental proposals that included opposition to fracking. Lawmakers in recent years have repeatedly considered proposed fracking bans, but the measures have not passed. Florida has long had oil drilling in parts of the Panhandle and Southwest Florida, but the drilling has not used the fracking technique.

Rep. Mike Hill, a Pensacola Republican who voted against the House version of the fracking ban Wednesday, said fracking has become an energy driver for the U.S., and areas of Northwest Florida could use the technology.

“I would hate to see us in Florida just ban the technology outright, where certain parts of the state could benefit from it,” Hill said.

Critics of fracking expressed skepticism after the vote that a compromise can be found in the House.

The House panel, for example, rejected, in a 10-5 party-line vote, an amendment proposed by Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, that would have brought the bill closer to Montford’s Senate proposal.

Jenne said after the meeting he expects to work on a number of proposals that may not go as far as Montford’s bill.

“We’re going to have to come up with different amendments,” Jenne said. “We’re going to give different options to folks.”

Montford called his proposal a statement that “we want to make absolutely sure that we take no chances in regards to our drinking water” and that it “reflects what the majority of Floridians want.”

Under Montford’s proposal, the Department of Environmental Protection would also be required to conduct a $2 million study evaluating high-pressure well stimulation and matrix acidization. The study would address topics including Florida’s geology, risks to water resources, previously abandoned wells, setback requirements, the ultimate disposition of fluids and air and land pollution.

News Service of Florida