Thursday, June 21, 2018
Politics

Florida House approves bill to authorize, regulate fracking

TALLAHASSEE — After rejecting efforts to require the oil and gas industry to disclose carcinogens and monitor the effects of fracking on pregnant women and drinking water, the Florida House on Wednesday passed a bill to open the door to the high-pressure drilling technique.

The measure, HB 191, allows the state to regulate and authorize the pumping of large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground using high pressure to recover oil and gas deposits. It passed by a 73-45 vote with seven Republicans joining Democrats to oppose the measure.

The bill bans the practice until state environmental regulators complete a study in 2017 to determine what potential impact the operations will have on the state's geology and fragile water supply but also prohibits local governments from imposing their own bans or regulations.

The study will then be used to inform regulations by Department of Environmental Protection and the proposed rules must come back for legislative approval.

"I recognize that this bill is in the center of the storm of controversy," said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who has sponsored the bill for the last four years.

He said that he has heard three arguments during that time: that this activity can't be done safely and it threatens human life, that it is not compatible with the state's environment and that technology does not exist to allow it to be done without poisoning the state's water.

But, he said, the state has seen similar controversies — such as whether to allow alternate current electricity into homes, which was banned in some states; whether to allow for automobiles on the state's roads; and whether to allow submerged lands to help launch astronauts to put man on the moon.

"The controversies have always been the same," he said. "Are we going to react with fear … or with courage?"

Legislators rejected more than 20 amendments offered by Democrats that would have imposed hurdles to the activity sought by the oil and gas industry.

The amendments, by Reps. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach; Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami; Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey; Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg; and 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 begin.

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. But the bill is also vigorously opposed by environmental groups and 41 cities and 27 counties — including Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

One amendment by Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, 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-Fort Walton Beach.

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

But Rodrigues 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 — from 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 required the disclosure of any chemical, such as benzene, used in the fracking operation that is considered a carcinogen.

Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, noted that fracking is already allowed in Florida and this would stop the practice until regulations are in place.

"This good bill recognizes the emergence of a new technology in energy independence," he said. "We owe it to our constituents to explore where this new technology can be done in Florida and whether it can be done in Florida."

Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, a physician, said he got involved in the issue because it's a "data-intense subject filled with emotion" and he has read many of the articles mentioned in the debate.

"My carefully considered conclusion is that there is not a conclusion," he said. "Wishing for a zero-risk process, with some absolute safety, is not possible."

Dudley warned that unlike oil wells, fracking wells are "sucked dry after three years," forcing the industry to seek more wells. "Florida will become more porous than Swiss cheese — which is how I would characterize these regulations," he said.

The vote marks the third year the House has approved the controversial bill. In the past, the Senate has not taken a floor vote, but this year, SB 318 by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, is moving more swiftly in the Senate.

According to an analysis by the Times/Herald 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 $265,000 this election cycle. 

On Tuesday, the Broward County Commission voted to become the 27th county to vote to ban fracking activities within the county. Kanter Realty has applied to drill an exploratory oil well in the Everglades, just west 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 every 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, Pa., at a news conference.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at [email protected] Follow @maryellenklas.

Comments
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18
Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another facility intended for detaining undocumented children is reportedly in the works for Houston as the number of children separated from their parents at the border continues to swell.Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the...
Published: 06/19/18
Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

ST. PETERSBURG — They appear to rise out of nowhere — two enormous, reclaimed-water tanks with an artist’s white clouds scudding across a blue background.A closer view reveals silhouettes of a lone coyote howling at the sky, mangrove islands, oak, cy...
Published: 06/19/18
FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

The FBI agent who was removed from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for sending anti-Trump texts intends to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and any other congressional committee that asks, his attorney sai...
Published: 06/17/18