1. Opinion

Dockery: Florida legislators should pass a real fracking ban.

Pump jacks and wells are seen in an oil field on the Monterey Shale formation in California where gas and oil extraction use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  [Photo (1014) by David McNew/Getty Images]
Pump jacks and wells are seen in an oil field on the Monterey Shale formation in California where gas and oil extraction use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. [Photo (1014) by David McNew/Getty Images]
Published Apr. 12, 2019

The history of fracking bills in the Florida Legislature offers a better understanding of what's happening this legislative session.

Since at least 2013, the Legislature has proposed ways with dealing with fracking in oil and gas drilling. Its efforts have morphed over the years.

The 2013 bills tried to allow fracking. In 2015, those efforts continued to permit fracking but were packaged as fracking regulation. Then in 2016 the fracking-friendly Legislature tried a different tactic: Study it.

By 2017, the Senate outwardly sought to ban fracking, knowing that the bill would go nowhere in the House. In 2018, the Senate passed the fracking ban, but it was never heard in the House.

And here we are in 2019 with competing fracking bills in the Senate.

The environmentally responsible bill, which would ban all types of fracking processes in Florida, is on a slower path. That bill, SB 314 by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, has only been heard in one Senate committee--the one he chairs. It passed unanimously in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

The other fracking bill—SB 7064 by Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula—is moving a little quicker, having been heard in two committees. The Albritton bill bans two types of fracking while allowing a third type. Though the "not quite a ban on fracking" bill is progressing, it rightfully has opposition. It barely passed Albritton's Agriculture Committee on a 3-2 vote and passed the Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee on a party-line vote of 6-4, with Democratic committee members voting no.

What exactly is fracking and how do the two bills differ?

Fracking is a method of getting oil or gas from the rock below the surface of the ground by making large cracks in it. The term is slang for fracturing.

According to the staff analysis of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, the three process descriptions are as follows:

Hydraulic fracturing consists of injecting a mixture of water, sand and several trace chemicals into the oil/gas reservoir at high pressures sufficient to increase permeability by introducing fractures into the reservoir rock or by enlarging existing fractures.

Acid fracturing is a well stimulation technique in which well operators pump acidic fluids into a well at a pressure that exceeds the fracture gradient and fractures the rock. The acid etches the walls of the resulting fractures and eliminates the need to use a proppant such as sand.

Matrix acidizing uses larger volumes of acid solution injected at pressures below the fracture gradient. It does not produce fracturing; however, hydrochloric acid is very effective at dissolving carbonate minerals including limestone.

The two-page Montford bill creates a new section of law that prohibits both high-pressure well stimulation and matrix acidization and limits the ban to only oil and gas wells.

The six-page, controversial Albritton bill allows matrix acidization and sets some requirements, including impact studies and increased bonding requirements that are unnecessary if the method is banned.

The last Senate action on a total ban was in mid-February, despite no opposition, while the latest activity on the partial ban was in late March despite opposition.

The House—which isn't really interested in passing any fracking ban—recently took up the partial ban bill in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and passed it on a 10-2 vote.

Environmental groups correctly claim that the bill allowing matrix acidization puts our underground aquifers at risk of contamination from the use of dangerous chemicals.

The aquifer is the primary source of our drinking water supply. With a population of nearly 21 million and over 100 million tourists visiting Florida every year, we can't afford the risk to our aquifer or to our other natural resources.

Florida has a fragile environment, with sinkholes, endangered freshwater springs, runoff pollution causing algae blooms, degraded water bodies like Lake Okeechobee and an already costly Everglades restoration project that isn't properly funded. Why take the risk?

There are several possible outcomes, but sadly the likely one is no ban on fracking again this year. If Gov. Ron DeSantis really wants to be the environmental governor, he should step up and urge Republican lawmakers to pass the true fracking ban.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She is now a registered NPA.