The Senate is moving ahead with a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, despite industry threats of a blizzard of lawsuits. But as Jim Ash reports, the House remains a big question mark.
Once again, a Senate committee was jammed to the rafters with environmental activists worried about hydraulic fracturing. But this time, they were there to celebrate the debut of a Republican-sponsored statewide ban.
As she stepped to the lectern to introduce her bill, Senator Dana Young of Tampa displayed a cylindrical core sample of Florida limestone. The sample was riddled with holes and proof, Young says, fracking doesn’t belong in Florida.
“This bill is concise and straightforward. It bans all types of fracking. It bans hydraulic fracking, acid fracking and matrix acidizing.”
And instead of a sea of grim faces, panel members saw mostly smiles.
“Hello, my name is Michelle Allen, I am the Florida organizer with Food and Water Watch. I just want to start by thanking Chairwoman Book and the committee members for considering this legislation. I’m here today on behalf of our 60 thousand Florida supporters to urge you to vote yes on Senate Bill 442.”
Susan Glickman, a lobbyist representing the Everglades Coalition, could hardly contain her glee.
“We know that these well stimulation methods use millions of gallons of fresh water. We know there are also hundreds of chemicals that have adverse impacts. So it’s very important.”
This time, the sour faces belonged to a small knot of lobbyists representing corporate Florida and the oil and gas industry. The list of opponents included The Florida Petroleum Council, Exxon Mobile, the Florida Chamber Commerce, the James Madison Institute and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
They repeated arguments that fracking is safe and necessary for national defense. They also warned Florida would have the toughest ban in the nation. Jake Kramer, an attorney for Collier Resources in Southwest Florida, warned Senators they were making a mistake.
“Large landowners won’t have a choice. They’ll be forced to bring dozens of high-profile and expensive takings lawsuits against the state. They’ll do this because the bill will take their property rights as soon as it becomes law.”
After the vote, Young stressed that the measure only bans hydraulic fracturing, not conventional drilling.
“There are really no investment-backed expectations that would be taken by this regulatory exercise of the state police power. I think we are on strong legal ground.”
Democratic Senator Gary Farmer of Fort Lauderdale, agrees. He says drillers would be hard-pressed to prove they lost anything of value.
“They don’t know that there’s gas down there. They don’t know that its in a place that they can safely extract it.”
Young has two more committee stops in the Senate, but her biggest problem is in the House. House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues sponsored an industry backed bill last year. He says he continues to favor more studies and strict regulations.
A Central Florida Republican is sponsoring a House version, but it has yet to get a hearing.