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A Watered Down Fracking Bill Moving In Senate

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Environmentalists are up in arms once again as Republican leaders continue to push for legislation that would pave the way for fracking in Florida.

The highly controversial drilling technique, banned in New York, is blamed for everything from earth quakes to flaming drinking water.

After failing last year to pave the way for fracking in Florida, supporters are back. This time, with a weaker bill and stronger rhetoric.

The latest Senate version would not allow fracking until an environmental study is completed and regulations are drawn up reflecting its findings. And the Legislature would have to approve the rules before they go into effect.

Republican Senator Garett Richter of Naples argues the bill is necessary because without rules, there’s no way to stop fracking now.

“You can’t stop technology but you can properly regulate it. We’re not properly regulated today. This bill tries to get us there.”

More importantly, Richter says, it’s a matter of national security.

“I believe that we as a state and we as a country should do everything possible we can do to increase the amount of energy resources that we have and thereby reducing our reliance on people that want to sell us oil and at the same time destroy our way of life and kill us.”

The changes and the tough words weren’t enough to convince Republican Senator Charlie Dean of Inverness, a fracking opponent and chairman of the Environmental Protection and Conservation Committee.

Dean voted against it.

And Democrats weren’t satisfied either. Senator Darren Soto of Orlando tried unsuccessfully to add language banning fracking within one mile of a river or stream.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As you know, Florida has a unique limestone geology and we get the vast majority of our water from underground. Is there any other state with that kind of water source and geology that has fracking currently in the United States?”

One of the most controversial features of the bill is preemption. It would ban local governments from regulating fracking and that has the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties opposing the measure.

That could pose a problem in Southwest Florida, where companies have been drilling for oil since the 1940s and where tiny Bonita Springs has a fracking ban ordinance. Staff warned commissioners a legislative preemption would prevent the city from zoning fracking away from residential neighborhoods.

The fracking legislation allows drillers to declare some of the chemicals they pump beneath the aquifer as trade secrets, a move that could force the public to go to court to find out what they are.

And that, says Todd Sack, a Tallahassee physician, and spokesman for the Florida Medical Association, could make it harder for doctors to treat patients.

“First, this bill will interfere significantly with the ability of physicians to care for our patients. Secondly, it will erode the confidence of Florida’s people in their government.”

The bill passed the committee 6-3.