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Lawmakers Debate Underground Natural Gas Storage

Natural gas companies want to take advantage of Florida’s already existing resources and use once-mined and now empty underground natural gas and petroleum reservoirs as a place to store natural gas.  members of the Florida House considered the subject Tuesday. Representative Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) authored the bill, which would create the rules and framework for underground natural gas storage in the state of Florida, specifically in already existing natural underground reservoirs. Eagle said it’s a relatively common practice around the country.

It’s being done in 22 other states currently and it’s been done for the past 100 years in the United States,” Eagle said.

But some, like Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) are raising concerns about what the environmental impact of such a move might be, especially for the state’s underground water supply. Rehwinkel Vasilinda questioned whether the reservoirs are really empty.

“Is there oxygen in there? Is there brine in there? Is there oil in there? What’s going to be pushed out when the gas gets in there and the pressure builds up and where is that going to go and do we have study as to where whatever is in there is going to leech out or be pushed out?”

Eagle said the underground gas storage would be far enough below any water that that shouldn’t be a concern and said any company hoping to store natural gas in a natural underground reservoir would have to go through a federal, state and local permitting process that is intended to protect the environment and the state’s water supply. Meanwhile, Representative Matt Hudson (R-Naples) said it’s true there’s still some material in the reservoirs.

In that space, if you will, is crude oil, at the very lowest levels. You have a mixture of saltwater brinish intrusion, which is very common in Southwest Florida, and you have some reoccurrence of natural gas to begin with. There was already natural gas there, hence the natural part of that,” Hudson said.

Hudson said when a company puts natural gas back into that space some water, and some oxygen as well as carbon dioxide will leave. 

Representative Eagle also presented a bill that would provide a public records exemption for certain information a company might give when it applies for the permits to store nature gas in the underground spaces.

“These reservoirs are natural, but the infrastructure used to extract the gas or put the gas back in could be a trade secret to that business,” Eagle said.

Eagle said under the bill things like real estate deals, studies about the storage reservoir’s performance characteristics or well designs would be examples of exempt information. Eagle also got several questions revolving around how his bill would related to what’s known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which is the process of creating larger fractures in rocks by injecting liquid into already existing cracks so oil or natural gas can be extracted more quickly. But Eagle said during a discussion on the House floor with Representative Rehwinkel Vasilinda that fracking is not a topic his bill touches.

However, Lawmakers in the House did take up another measure, this one authored by Representative Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Meyers) that does have to do with fracking. It would create a database where companies that use hydraulic fracturing must report what chemicals they’re using as a part of the process. All three measures will be up for further discussion on the House floor.

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Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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