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Darren Soto says cities, counties pushing for fracking ban

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The Democratic sponsor of a Senate bill that would ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, said Thursday that local governments are creating a groundswell of support for the legislation.

Fracking can involve using water, sand, and chemicals to force oil and gas from underground rock. Environmentalists have raised concerns that the process is a threat to drinking water, especially in Florida with its reliance on aquifers for its water supply.

Hydraulic fracturing would be banned under SB 166, by state Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and HB 169 by state Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach. Neither bill has been heard in a committee so their chances of passing do not look good.

This week, Tallahassee and Leon County adopted resolutions supporting a statewide ban. They joined Coconut Beach and Alachua, Hamilton, Madison, Miami-Dade, and Union counties in opposition to fracking, according to Food & Water Watch and ReThink Energy Florida.

“These are counties all across the political spectrum,” Soto said Thursday. “But they all understand conservation shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It needs to be an issue all Floridians support.”

Meanwhile, bills have been filed in the House and Senate establishing regulatory requirements for “high-pressure well stimulation,” which would include forms of fracking that don’t use chemicals. In addition, HB 1209 would provide for an exemption from public records law for the same practice.

But Soto, during a press conference on environmental issues with four other Democratic senators, dismissed the idea of strengthening regulation, saying fracking is a threat to the state’s beauty.

“I don’t want to quibble with whether it (fracking) should be regulated and whether we should increase the fines,” Soto said Thursday. “Fracking should be banned in Florida period.”

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the cities or counties supporting the ban heard from environmental activists, but probably didn’t seek input from the energy industry.

He quoted past and present Obama administration officials who said either that fracking doesn’t pose a threat or the problems associated it are manageable.

“I don’t think any of them (cities and counties) examined the issue,” Mica said. “I would be happy to go before any of them and talk about what the technology has meant to America.”

And state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Estero, said he hasn’t seen any science to support a statewide ban on fracking. He is sponsor HB 1205 to regulate fracking, which Sierra Club Florida opposes, and HB 1209 to provide the public records exemption.

“I think any locality is free to pass any resolution taking a position on legislation that is proposed here,” Rodrigues said Thursday.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 launched a study of the environmental effects of fracking and the study is due out this year. But Inside Climate News reported that the study won’t be able to answer the central question because the oil and gas industry refused to cooperate in the study.

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

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