Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call to ban “fracking” advanced Tuesday in the House and Senate as environmentalists argue the proposals don’t go far enough and the petroleum industry fights to allow the controversial drilling technique.
With the groups opposing the bills for different reasons, some lawmakers were left explaining their support as the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee voted 10-2 to ban “hydraulic fracturing” for oil and natural gas (HB 7029). Later, the Senate Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee narrowly approved a broader version (SB 7064) that includes provisions on drilling in the Everglades.
Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, and Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, labeled the House proposal a good “first step” to ban fracking, even if it doesn’t include language desired by environmentalists to address a similar technique called “matrix acidizing.”
“I believe we are better off doing something towards the cause of banning fracking in our state and hope that at some point in this committee process this year, if not hopefully in years to come, that we can continue to work on this and make it more expansive,” Polsky said. “What is presented for us, it’s hard to say no to this bill, because then we are in favor of fracking.”
The acidizing technique uses many of the same chemicals as in fracking, but it dissolves rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid.
The House version was improved slightly Tuesday in the eyes of environmentalists when bill sponsor Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican who chairs the subcommittee, made a change to narrow the definition of fracking from “injecting high volumes of fluids at a high rate” to simply “injecting fluids.”
The narrow definition is not included in the Senate version. But the Senate bill seeks to provide oil-drilling protections for the Everglades. That move is a reaction to an ongoing legal battle over a Broward County landowner’s plan to drill an exploratory oil well on about five acres in the Everglades. The exploratory well would not involve fracking.
Still, environmentalists remain opposed to the House and Senate proposals and the possibility of allowing the matrix acidizing technique. Environmentalists contend that fracking threatens Florida’s water supplies and can affect agricultural production and cause environmental damage.
“It’s not a fracking ban until all forms of fracking are banned,” said Kim Ross, executive director of Rethink Energy Florida.
Gladys Delgadillo, environmental policy specialist for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, pointed to concerns that the public will feel safe from fracking when the omission of matrix acidizing leaves “wiggle words” that could be used by the petroleum industry to engage in the practice.
After years of proposed fracking bans stalling in the Legislature, the issue gained traction this year when DeSantis in January released a list of environmental proposals that included opposition to “hydraulic fracturing.”
The Florida Petroleum Council contends that fracking is safe, can boost oil and gas production and helps hold down energy costs for consumers.
“What are we going to do today to assist us in increasing American energy supplies, that we know make us more secure as a nation, creates a lot of jobs, and is the second greatest source of revenue to our government behind the income tax,” Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica said. “Banning hydraulic fracturing will not do that.”
Mica, noting most people are unaware that oil production has occurred for decades in Florida, added there is no need for the legislative action as DeSantis could ask the state Department of Environmental Protection to enact a rule change about fracking.
Rep. Rick Roth, R-Loxahatchee, acknowledged being “troubled” in supporting a bill opposed by the petroleum industry, which he credited for improving the nation’s energy independence and for cleaning the environment by helping move from coal-fired power plants to gas-fired plants.
“Natural gas is not the problem, it’s the solution to the problem, and we as Americans have to find a way to do both, to provide more abundant and cheaper and safer energy to prevent climate change, sea level rising, whatever you want to call it,” Roth said. “We can’t just take one extreme position or the other.”
But he said there are concerns from his neighbors about contaminating the state’s water supply, and the bill could help the industry’s public relations.
“I think this bill does part of that, saying we are concerned in Florida about contaminating our water supply by injecting water down into wells to do the fracturing,” Roth said.