A bill that would create a new regulatory framework in Florida for the controversial practice known as fracking passed a House panel Wednesday, despite overwhelming public testimony against it.
The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee approved the bill (HB 191), filed by Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues and Rep. Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican, on a 9-3 vote.
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. The bill would set up a state permitting process for fracking and require oil and gas companies to register the chemicals they use on a national website. And it would set aside $1 million for a study on the impact of fracking.
Representative Rodrigues said the study would intend to answer five questions about hydraulic fracturing:
- What is the effect on the underground structure?
- What is the impact on ground and surface water
- What will happen to the use and reuse of recycled water
- What is an appropriate setback from an abandoned well. How far away do you have to be
- What to do with well stimulation fluid
The bill would also pre-empt local control, a major factor in why 20 counties and nearly 40 cities in the state have passed regulations banning fracking. “You’re taking away home rule,” complained Deborah Johnson.
The bill would also require the companies to inform the state Department of Environmental Protection of chemicals they inject into the ground — but after the fact, not before, which is a problem, said Madison resident John Dicker.
Despite those concerns, amended language of HB 191 does include a provision for chemicals injected to be listed in the application submitted to the department:
“In addition to providing such information … as part of the permitting process, a service provider, vendor, or well owner or operator shall report, by 670 department rule, to the department, at a minimum …. Each chemical ingredient that is subject to 29 C.F.R. s. 1910.1200(g)(2) and the ingredient concentration in the high-pressure well stimulation fluid by mass for each well on which a high-pressure well stimulation is performed.”
Kim Ross, from Rethink Energy Florida and a former DEP staffer, said that the DEP would not have sufficient time or money to conduct an adequate study. “If the project could be done primarily in-house, DEP would have already begun this task,” she told lawmakers. “So it seems to me that DEP will outsource a good portion of that study, and that is why HB 191 allocates a million dollars.” She added that the agency won’t get the money until mid-March probably, and then will have to go through the process of hiring an independent vendor that will take several months.
Fracking has actually occurred previously in Florida. A well in Collier County was successfully drilled in 2013 by the Dan A. Hughes Company, who was later fined $25,000 for violating its permit.
One Republican on the committee who supported the bill, Vero Beach’s Debbie Mayfield, said she still had a number of concerns about the proposal, and reserved her right to oppose the measure when it comes to the entire House next year.
Republicans Ray Pilon from Sarasota and Neil Combee from Lakeland both said that if needed, they would support giving the DEP more than the $1 million listed in the bill for a study.
Miami Democrat Jose Rodriguez said he was very opposed to the legislation.
“In my view, passing this bill would effectively lay out a welcome mat for the fracking industry, ” he said. “I the effect is 100 percent opposed to what I believe what my constituents, which is no fracking in Florida.”
There is a Senate companion bill being sponsored by Naples Republican Garrett Richter.
Editor note: The article has been updated to reflect amended wording of HB 191.