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Bills for fracking regulation filed again after years of opposition

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Bills that would regulate hydraulic fracturing and restrict the public disclosure of chemicals used in the process have been filed again after similar bills died amid opposition in previous years.

Hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, is a process of using sand, water and chemicals under pressure to extract oil and gas. Critics say the practice represents a threat to groundwater and drinking water supplies but the energy industry says it is a safe method of producing domestic energy.

Bills that would require disclosure to state agencies of chemicals used in fracking were filed the past two years but failed to pass. In 2014, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection cited the Dan A. Hughes Co. for fracking at an oil well in Collier County in violation of a permit.

Republican state Rep. Ray Rodrigues from Estero and sponsor of the bills for now the third year to provide for regulation of fracking, said the controversy over the Dan A. Hughes Co. operation adds a sense of urgency to establish a regulatory framework.

“I think what occurred in Collier County was a wake-up call that fracking is much closer to Florida than some people believed last year or the year before that,” Rodrigues said. “It is not a theoretical exercise anymore.”

In response to the Hughes incident, Democrats in the House and Senate have filed bills to ban fracking.

But Rodrigues said he does not favor a ban because there is no scientific evidence to support it. He said his bill also would require a study of the impact of fracking on hydrology and geology.

For the past two years, environmentalists have objected to a provision that would allow chemicals used in fracking to be classified as “trade secrets” that are exempt from public view.

Thousands of postcards objecting to the legislation were sent to House members in 2013 when a bill passed the House but wasn’t taken up in the Senate.

This year, HB 1205 would establish regulatory requirements for “high-pressure well stimulation,” which Rodrigues said is a broad enough definition to include forms of fracking that don’t use chemicals. HB 1209 would provide for an exemption from public records law for the same practice.

State Sen. Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican, filed SB 1468 as a companion to the House regulatory bill. A companion to the public records exemption bill was not filed in the Senate.

Sierra Club Florida lobbyist David Cullen said the organization supports the ban and is opposed to the HB 1205 and HB 1209 to regulate fracking.

He said the Sierra Club does not believe it is possible to effectively regulate fracking in karst geology. And the organization believes that chemicals used during the process should be made public rather than exempted from the state public records law.

“We think that the public interest and public safety should trump the very narrow basis on which a determination on whether a trade secret or not is based,” he said.

David Mica of the Florida Petroleum Council praised the House and Senate legislation as a proposal to clarify state requirements for drilling operators.

“We will continue to contribute with our industry expertise to legislators and other publics in their efforts to bring the best engineering efforts to clarity for safe and functional operations in Florida,” Mica said.

Hydraulic fracturing would be banned under SB 166, by Democratic state Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando, and HB 169 by Dania Beach Democratic state Rep. Evan Jenne.

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

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