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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

House rejects attempts to impose health restrictions on oil and gas fracking

26

January

The Florida House smacked down a series of Democratic amendments aimed at weakening a bill that prohibits local governments from banning high pressure well stimulation known as fracking and positioned the bill for approval by the full House on Wednesday.

The amendments, by Reps. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, and Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, would have allowed local governments to regulate the activity, impose testing of water quality and water wells, study the effects of the fracking chemicals on human health, and require local voter approval before fracking activities being.

Fracking involves the pumping of large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground using high pressure to recover oil and gas deposits.

The bill, HB 191, is sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodriques and is being pushed by the oil and gas industry. But it is also vigorously opposed by environmental groups and 41 cities and 26 counties -- including Miami Dade and Broward counties.

A similar measure, SB 318, is also moving quickly in the Senate. According to an analysis by the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, the oil and gas industry contributed at least $443,000 to the political committees of top Republican lawmakers since the last election.

The top contributor, the Barron Collier Companies, which wants a permit to use hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil and gas in Naples, steered $178,000 to lawmakers since December 2014, including $115,000 since July. Other members of the petroleum industry have contributed another of $265,000 this election cycle.

Proponents of the bill said they won the support of the Florida Association of Counties and the League of Cities with a provision that postpones the prohibition on fracking bans until  a study on the impact of the state's geology is completed in 2017.

After that, the bill allows the controversial practice to go forward with minimal local regulation but requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to enact rules to regulate and monitor the practice. The rules would then have to be ratified by the Florida Legislature.

A similar bill, by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, has passed one committee in the Senate, where the bill died last year.

Photo:  Ray Kemble, a former fracking industry worker from Dimock, Penn., shows water from his and neighbors well after infiltrated by fracking chemicals. 

One amendment by Jenne, to study the impact of the fracking chemicals on pregnant mothers, unborn babies and other human health, won the support of at least one Republican, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar.

"If fracking hurts unborn babies and if it is proven that fracking hurts unborn babies then should we let frackcing to continue,'' Gaetz said.

But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said the amendment wasn't needed because the study will look at the impact on people's health.

Jenne cited a study from the University of Missouri near a fracking site in Colorado which found endocrine disruptors in the water. Another study by Princeton, Columbia and MIT found that proximity to a fracking site in Pennsylvania increased the likelihood of low birth weight babies by more than half -- form about 5.6 percent to more than 9 percent.

"These aren't some whacked out environmental groups,'' he said. The amendment failed 69-45.

Another amendment, to require the disclosure of any chemical, such as benzene, used in the fracking operation that is also considered a carcinogen.

As Jenne delivered an impassioned plea to urge the chamber not to "inject cancer into the soil" and noted "that the state gives millions a year to cancer screening and many people volunteer to defeat cancer,'' many of his colleagues ignored him, chatting in clusters around the chamber.

"We can also agree cancer is evil,'' Jenne said. "Not a single one of us wants more cancer in the State of Florida."

The amendment was rejected 71-42.

He noted that the state gives millions a year to cancer screening and many people volunteer to defeat cancer. "All that work...simply say that we as a body do no believe tha tmore carcinogens in our water, in our air, in our children is not the proper step for the Sate of Florida irrespective of any economic growth,'' he said. "It will be offset by the increase in cancer."

"Any of you live in a gas station?,'' he said. "Don't inject cancer into the soil. It's a simple one."

The House rejected the amendments on the same day the Broward County Commission was expected to become became the 27th county to vote to ban fracking activities within the county. Kanter Realty has applied to drill an exploratory oil well in the Florida Everglades, just west of the city of Miramar, and the application is under review by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  

On Monday, the House Democrats invited a landowner and former fracking industry worker from Pennsylvania to talk about their state's experience with fracking. They said that 10,000 wells, located in evvery county in the state, have been cited for health and safety violations.

“This will destroy the state like you can’t imagine,” said Ray Kemble, a former fracking industry worker from Dimock, Penn. at a press conference.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2016 6:22pm]

    

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