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Democrat Fracking Ban Runs Out Of Gas

Center for Advanced Research and Teaching

Democrats sounded the alarm about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the same day Republicans went ahead with plans to cement ground rules for the controversial gas and oil drilling technique.

The Senate Environmental Preservation Committee approved a drilling bill that forces members of the public to go to court if they want to know the chemicals drillers pump a mile below the ground.

Unable to gain traction in a Republican-controlled Legislature for a fracking ban,  Democrats took their case to the public Tuesday at a Capitol press conference. Sign-waving activists from the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida lent moral support. Spokeswoman Judy Meyers:

“All issues are women’s issues. We support the bills by Representative Jenne, Representative Pafford and all of our Senators because it’s going to devastate our ecosystem all along our coastline.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a highly controversial drilling technique. Oil and gas companies pump sand, water and chemicals at high pressure deep  underground to free oil and natural gas. Democratic Representative Evan Jenne of Fort Lauderdale wants to ban it. He knows he’s fighting a losing battle.

“It’s a mix of highly toxic chemicals blasted literally into the foundation of our state. If you and your family have an aversion to methanol, boric acid and hydrochloric acid, well, our bill is for you.”

Fracking’s been blamed for everything from flaming tap water to earth quakes. Governor Andrew Cuomo banned it in New York in 2014. House Minority Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach says Republican leaders are being short sighted. Why encourage fracking in Florida when the nation is awash in domestic oil.

“What is our legacy? Right now, our legacy is looking down at our feet and not looking at a horizon.”

At a committee meeting later in the afternoon, supporters fired back at the critics. Florida Department of Environmental Protection administrator Paul Cobb described an engineering study declaring fracking safe. Fracking can happen now, she says, and there are no rules to govern it.

“I don’t know anyone that would argue that we are better off not having a bill in place that includes these protections versus the status quo that exists today.”

DEP asked for the bill after a 2013 run in with a Texas oil company. Caught drilling near the Everglades without a permit for its “fracking like” operation. The company paid heavy fines and pulled out.

Senator Darren Soto of Orlando pushed for a five-year moratorium and to make it easier for the public to know the chemicals drillers use. He also pushed for one hundred thousand dollars a day in potential fines for permit violators.

“We need to jack up the fines so badly that it isn’t even worth it to come here to frack one drop of oil or gas from this state.”

Republicans shot Soto’s amendments down in short order.  Democratic attempts to ban fracking in the state appear all but dead, but environmental lobbyist David Cullen isn’t giving up hope.

“It aint over till its over. This is the hottest issue, the most emotional issue that I have dealt with in my eight years representing the Sierra Club. People are tremendously upset about this.”

The Republican fracking bill passed overwhelmingly.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.