Some forms of fracking to explore for oil and natural gas would be banned in Florida under a bill that cleared a state Senate committee Monday, with environmental groups and other opponents contending a major loophole could still threaten water supplies and the state's fragile ecosystem.
The legislation was approved, 3-2, by the Senate Agriculture Committee, with both Democrats voting against. Only New York, Vermont and Maryland have enacted bans on fracking, which uses high-pressure liquids to create cracks in underground rock to allow pockets of oil and gas to flow freely.
Environmental groups and other opponents say the Florida fracking bill would still permit exploration using acids that dissolve rock and could contaminate crucial groundwater supplies.
"This is a risky proposition," said Sen. Kevin Rader, a Boca Raton Democrat. "I don't understand why we are taking chances."
Supporters say the technique — formally known as matrix acidizing — has been used for decades to clean out or restore wells in Florida without damaging the environment or contaminating water supplies.
"The fact is, we have to have that production. Florida has very limited resources as far as what's in the ground," said Republican Sen. Doug Broxson of Pensacola. "Let's don't interrupt what we've done right."
The bill would ban the two most common forms of fracking — including hydraulic fracturing — but environmental groups say allowing the third fracking method essentially amounts to no ban at all.
"You can't call it a ban unless it bans all forms of fracking," said Kim Ross, executive director of Rethink Energy Florida.
Most oil and natural gas in Florida is produced in the northwest and southern parts of the state. Production peaked at 47 million barrels in 1978 but has since dropped to 2 million barrels in 2017, according to a Senate staff analysis. As of last year, there were 57 active wells in the state.
Nationwide, fracking has been credited with dramatically increasing U.S. oil and natural gas production, with about two-thirds of the nation's active wells using fracking techniques. Yet critics have long been concerned about environmental issues, including a sharp increase of earthquakes in Oklahoma, possible water and air contamination and use of deep ground injection to dispose of waste.
In Florida, fracking opponents worry that the state's porous common limestone rock could make the technique a threat to underground water aquifers that many people depend on for drinking water.
Other fracking ban bills are pending in the House and Senate, including one by Democratic Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee that would ban all forms of the practice.
"I think we need to put a stake in the ground and say no to fracking," Montford said, adding that the issue is "at the core of the future of this state, and that is the preservation of our natural resources including water."