Fracking Bill Moves Forward in Florida Legislature

A bill that would create regulations for fracking was approved by a House committee Wednesday despite strong opposition from environmentalists who said the method of oil and gas drilling could contaminate drinking water and cause health problems.

The bill calls for the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a $1 million study on how fracking would affect surface and groundwater and underground geology and then set regulations for the fracking industry. It will also look at how water and chemicals will be disposed of and any potential for contamination once a well has been plugged.

The Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee voted 9-3 for the bill (HB 191) after hearing about 30 members of the public and lobbyists comment on the measure, nearly all of whom opposed it out of environmental and health concerns. The vote was along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against.

Republican Rep. Cary Pigman, who is a medical doctor, said he is skeptical of studies that indicate fracking has a greater health risk than traditional oil and gas drilling, adding any health issues may be a result of the product rather than the process.

"No one is disputing that there are volatile hydrocarbons around the fractured well site, but there's also volatile hydrocarbons at a gas station, there's also volatile hydrocarbons in your car,'' Pigman said. "You don't want to live right next to an oil well; you don't want to live right next to a car that's leaking gas.''

But Tallahassee Dr. Lonnie Draper, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said fracking chemicals will cause contamination since the very process is designed to create leaks in the layer of earth that contains oil and gas.

"At some point in time this state will be cleaning up that water, no doubt. The medical consequences of these chemicals are extensive,'' said Draper.

Bill supporters say there is nothing in Florida law that prevents fracking and the measure would make sure no permits are issued until regulations are established. The DEP report would have to be completed by June 30, 2017. Opponents say the state should ban fracking rather than regulating it.

"Passing this bill would effectively lay out a welcome mat for the fracking industry,'' said Democratic Rep. Jose Rodriguez of Miami.

Some Republicans who supported the bill said they had concerns with a provision that would prevent local governments from banning fracking, as about 20 counties and 40 cities have done already.

Bill sponsor Rep. Ray Rodrigues of Estero said he's working with groups representing local governments to address concerns. While he said local governments wouldn't be able to outright ban the practice, they could be given local control on issues such as where it can take place, limits on noise levels and hours of operations.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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