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Lawmakers Do Their Bit For Fracking


When the House drills a little further down its calendar next week, environmentalists will get another chance to do their bit against fracking. Lawmakers are going ahead with plans to create some ground rules for the oil and gas industry.

Florida Petroleum Council lobbyist Dave Mica never misses an opportunity to dangle fracking’s promise of jobs and economic growth.

“Hydraulic fracturing has transformed the united states into an energy superpower.”

Fracking involves shooting high-pressure water as much as a mile underground to blast natural gas and oil out of rock formations. Wells are so deep, they punch through the aquifer.

And that’s why Fracking has an image problem. It’s associated with flaming tap water, localized earth quakes and the evils of industry boomtowns.

Protesters from the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida streamed to the Capitol recently when it was clear minority bills to ban fracking were doomed. Club spokeswoman Judy Meyers explains.

“Because it’s going to devastate the ecosystems along our coast line and just to destroy that to make money is not something that the Democratic Women’s Club wants to support.”

A bill by Republican Representative Ray Rodriguez of Fort Myers gives a legal definition for the practice. He describes it like this.

“To begin with they’re defining what high-pressure well stimulation is. We’ve defined that as 100 thousand gallons of fluid injected into a rock formation to increase the production at an oil and gas well.”

And it’s inspired in part by a recent controversy. Regulators temporarily shut it down a fracking-like operation by Dan A. Hughes Company and imposed heavy fines. Hughes eventually pulled out.

There’s no law against fracking and no specific regulations for it. Hughes was accused of drilling without a permit. The bill fills the void with things like water standards and fines of up to $25,000 per day.

Paula Cobb, a deputy secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection, puts it this way.

“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 today.”

Protesters insist the real motive is money. The legislation is a welcome mat for a dangerous industry when the state should be slamming the door shut, says Democratic Senator Darren Soto of Orlando.

“WE need to jack up the fines so bad that it isn’t even worth it to come here to frack one drop of oil and gas in this state.”

Environmentalists aren’t giving up, says green lobbyist David Cullen.

“It ain’t over till it’s over. This is the hottest issue, the most emotional issue that I have dealt with in my eight years representing the Sierra Club of Florida. People are tremendously upset by this.”

A companion measure by Republican Senator Garrett Richter of Naples makes its last committee stop next week.

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.