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Associated Industries of FL working group to discuss onshore oil and gas production

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Associated Industries of Florida announced Wednesday it’s forming a “Florida Mineral Rights Working Group” to focus on oil and gas production — with no mention of the even more controversial idea of offshore drilling.

The announcement comes as legislation (SB 166/HB 169) has been filed to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is a process of using sand, water and chemicals to produce oil and gas. The filing of the bills follows a public uproar in Southwest Florida after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said in late 2013 it caught the Dan A. Hughes Co. conducting unauthorized drilling activities that experts said resembled fracking.

“The goal of this newly formed working group will be to help secure a fair and consistent regulatory framework in the state for operators and mineral owners while also ensuring standards are in place to protect Florida’s environment, our natural resources and our water supply,” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida.

The statement received a cool response from Progress Florida, a group that has opposed offshore oil drilling.

Feeney said the association for decades had been involved in energy issues and was “re-energizing our efforts on this front because of the renewed focus on Florida’s on-shore oil ad gas resources.”

“This will undoubtedly allow companies and land owners currently in this industry space to grow, while encouraging new companies to enter the state,” Feeney said. “The end result of which will be more jobs for Floridians, more revenue for the state and greater oversight of oil and gas exploration and production activities.”

Oil drilling, which is banned in Florida waters under state law, exploded as a debate topic in 2009 when the House passed a bill that allowed drilling within 10 miles of the coast. The Senate did not take up the bill and debate ended in 2010 when the BP/Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers, fouling Gulf beaches and hurting the state’s tourism economy.

“There’s nowhere in Florida that AIF wouldn’t put an oil rig if they thought they could line their pockets with money in doing so, regardless of the impacts to our quality of life and clean environment-dependent economy,” said Mark Ferrulo, executive director of Progress Florida.

And he said the 2010 oil spill showed that claims by Associated Industries of Florida that drilling could be done cleanly and safe was a fallacy.

“The fact is, drilling is the slowest, dirtiest, and most dangerous way to produce energy,” Ferrulo said. “Oil drilling is simply not compatible with an economy inextricably linked to a clean environment and we’re optimistic our policy makers will recognize that.”

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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