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These bills ban fracking in Florida. They also have loopholes.

Lawmakers who support the proposals say that even if the bills aren’t exactly what environmentalists want, it does more than doing nothing at all.
Pump jacks are seen at dawn in an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. [Photo by David McNew | Getty Images]
Pump jacks are seen at dawn in an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. [Photo by David McNew | Getty Images]
Published Mar. 26, 2019

TALLAHASSEE -- Senate and House committees Tuesday passed bills aimed at banning fracking, an oil-drilling technique widely criticized for its negative environmental impact.

While the bills have faced significant pushback from environmentalists across the state, no significant changes have been made to address their concerns. Both bills have loopholes that would allow use of another type of drilling technique called matrix acidizing, a process that involves injecting an acid solution at a pressure low enough to not be considered hydraulic fracturing.

Lawmakers who support the proposals say that even if the bills aren’t exactly what environmentalists want, it does more than doing nothing at all.

“Is it completely perfect? Is it everything we want? No, it’s not,” said Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek. “We have to do something. The idea that we’re not going to act because it isn’t perfect, I reject.”

Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto echoed the sentiment as she questioned an environmentalist who asked that the senators vote no on the bill.

“Wouldn’t it be prudent to take the wins where you can get the wins?” the Fort Myers Republican asked.

Tuesday morning, the House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture and natural resources voted 10-2 for HB 7029, filed by Key Largo Republican Holly Raschein.

Later Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee voted 6-4 along party lines for SB 7064, a bill filed on behalf of the Senate Agriculture Committee by Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula. Albritton also proposed an amendment to protect the Everglades, which was adopted in its last committee stop.

Environmentalists have repeatedly said matrix acidizing puts Florida’s underground water supply at risk of pollution. Groups have argued that the state’s porous geology of limestone rock makes fracking a serious threat, especially because most of the state’s drinking water comes from underground.

David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said because Florida is so porous, matrix acidizing is used disproportionately compared to other forms of fracking that fall under the bill.

“What they’re saying is ‘you’re getting two-thirds. Don’t be greedy,’ ” he said. “What you’re really getting is 3 percent and the industry gets 97 percent. It’s not a bargain for anybody in the state of Florida except the oil and gas industry.“

Kim Ross of ReThink Energy Florida said it’s not a fracking ban until matrix acidizing is included.

“Two of the three forms of fracking being banned leaves open the same risks,” she said. “If only two-thirds of this process is banned, you still have 100 percent of the risk.”

Well drillers and lobbyists from the petroleum industry argue that matrix acidizing is mainly used to remediate damage and maintain wells that get clogged or damaged from drilling operations, and therefore should not be included in the fracking ban. However in the Senate committee Tuesday, the executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council said those in the industry often use matrix acidizing to extract oil as well.

“We do both,” David Mica said. “The term is a scary term, isn’t it? Matrix acidizing? That chemical process is much like what we do when we’re cleaning a water well.”

A similar fracking ban bill filed by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, includes the matrix acidizing provision but will likely not be heard this session. Environmentalists call his the “good bill.”

Albritton said critics who say his bill has a loophole are misinformed.

“I’m not sure, quite frankly, what they’re talking about as a loophole,” he said Tuesday. “[Matrix acidizing] is a term that has popped up. This bill bans fracking and gives definitions; hydraulic fracking. I’m certain they’re incorrect.”

According to a staff analysis of the Senate bill, oil and natural gas production in Florida peaked at 47 million barrels in 1978. In 2017, just 2 million barrels were produced and as of 2018, only 57 active wells were left. Rather than hydraulic fracturing, well operators in the state have generally preferred alternatives to fracking to recover oil and gas resources.

In 1990, the state enacted a drilling ban for state water. Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled sweeping measures to protect the state’s aquifer and clean up the state’s water supply. He then went further and announced fracking bans as a priority.

Vermont, New York and Maryland all prohibit hydraulic fracturing.

If a fracking ban passes this legislative session, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection will have to revise existing rules to implement the ban.