A move to ban “fracking” in Florida advanced Monday in the Senate with some oil-drilling protections for the Everglades, but not more comprehensive language sought by environmentalists.
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted 3-2 along party lines to approve a measure (SPB 7064) by Chairman Ben Albritton that would meet Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting large volumes of fluids into rock formations at a “high rate” of pressure to help release natural gas and oil.
Sen. Doug Broxson, a Gulf Breeze Republican who voted for the proposal, expressed concern that the ban could impact the industry. Broxson noted that while the fracking technique has not been employed in the state, Florida has long had oil drilling in parts of the Panhandle and Southwest Florida.
“Florida has very limited resources as far as what is in the ground,” Broxson said. “What we’ve done is safe and responsible. And let’s don’t do anything to interrupt what we’ve done right for the last 60 years.”
While adamantly opposed to fracking, environmentalists have opposed Albritton’s bill because it doesn’t address a technique called “matrix acidizing.”
The acidizing technique utilizes many of the same chemicals as used in hydraulic fracking, but it dissolves rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid.
Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, said by not prohibiting the acidizing technique, as well as hydraulic fracturing, the proposal continues to be a “risky proposition” for the state’s fragile ecosystem.
“I don’t understand why we are taking chances, Oklahoma has, as we heard last week, has fracking going on and for the first time in their history they’ve got 2,000 earthquakes between the years 2015 and 2017,” Rader said. “I know there is a little bit of debate that it is due to fracking or not, but the majority of the debate believes that it is.”
Before voting, the committee made a change proposed by Albritton, R-Wauchula, that would impose additional state Department of Environmental Protection reviews on oil exploration within the Everglades Protection Area, along with increasing permitting costs and penalties.
Albritton’s amendment came after the 1st District Court of Appeal last month ruled that a Broward County landowner should receive a permit for exploratory drilling on about five acres of land in the Everglades. DeSantis’ administration, Broward County and the city of Miramar are asking for a rehearing in the appeals court.
Albritton said his proposal wouldn’t prohibit the drilling permits.
“At the end of the day, the courts have ruled that they can drill there, it really doesn’t leave us with very many options,” Albritton said. “My goal with this amendment was to provide for additional cost and safety measures, if they so choose to expand the drilling in that area.”
Proposals to ban fracking have repeatedly emerged in recent years but have not passed. Groups such as the Florida Petroleum Council have opposed the proposals, contending that fracking is safe, can boost production and help hold down energy costs for consumers.
But Albritton’s proposed ban gained traction this year after DeSantis in January released a list of environmental proposals that included opposition to hydraulic fracturing.
Opponents of Albritton’s proposal, many of whom contend they will remain opposed to the current bill if it doesn’t address “all forms of fracking,” argue fracking threatens Florida’s already-stressed water supplies, can impact agricultural production and can cause environmental damage.
David Cullen, a lobbyist for Sierra Club Florida, said even the Everglades amendment includes loopholes, noting a prohibition on access corridors and drilling pads through sensitive areas would continue to allow such uses when “reasonable and prudent alternatives are not available.”
“In other words, we get to do whatever we want to do in the Everglades, one way or another,” Cullen said of oil companies.
Albritton’s proposal is similar to a House bill (HB 7029) that has started moving forward. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, has proposed a bill (SB 314) that would ban hydraulic fracturing and matrix acidizing.