Fracking bills are dead for now but are expected to return next session.
5:50 p.m. update
A controversial bill that would have created regulations for fracking in Florida died Wednesday in the Senate, another casualty of the House’s early adjournment.
The bill (HB 1205) would have set up new regulations for fracking, including a separate permitting system, higher fines for violations and greater bonding requirements for energy companies. And while it also would have put in place a moratorium on fracking until a study and rule-making were complete, a number of environmental groups opposed the bill, saying it was industry-friendly and full of loopholes.
The bill was set for second reading Wednesday in the Senate. But Sen. Garrett Richter, author of the Senate’s version (SB 1468), acknowledged he did not have the super-majority needed to waive the rules and move it to final reading on the same day. He asked to temporarily postpone it, effectively killing the bill.
“This bill is going to add to the list of legislation that unfortunately is not going to pass,” said Richter, R-Naples. “I hope we can take up this issue next session.”
Richter asked to table the legislation Tuesday after the House decided to adjourn sine die three days early. Related bills (HB 1209 and SB 1582) that would have created public-records exemptions for fracking chemicals died Tuesday after the House adjourned without passing its version of the legislation.
David Cullen, lobbyist for Sierra Club Florida, said that while the records-exemption bill, which also needed a super-majority vote to pass, appeared to be in trouble, the regulation bill might have passed had the House not left early. He said he expects the bills to come back next year.
“We still have an awful lot of work to do,” he said. “But I think the sentiment of the public is becoming more and more apparent. And we’re going to have to continue to educate, continue to work with both houses and establish policy that makes sense for Florida.”
Cullen and other fracking opponents, who want to see Florida use more renewable energy like solar and wind, spoke against the legislation at committee hearings, calling for an outright ban on fracking. But bills by House and Senate Democrats to prohibit it went nowhere in the Republican-led Legislature.
Dr. Ron Saff, a Tallahassee allergist and member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said Floridians “need to start pounding on our legislators’ doors today” because the fracking legislation is bound to return.
“Despite this temporary win for Florida, we need to wake up and realize that the majority of our politicians are ignoring the public’s demand for clean water,” he said. “Unless more Floridians become politically active, many of us will have carcinogens in our coffee as pro-fracking legislation may pass next year.”
Fracking has become a widespread practice — more than a million wells in the United States have been hydraulically fractured — but it also has sparked controversy because of reported problems in other states, from pollution and water contamination to health impacts. The process involves the injection of water or acid, chemicals and sand under high pressure to release natural gas in rock formations deep underground.
David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said he’s looking forward to working after session with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which assisted on the bills, “so that we can use the best engineering and technologies to continue to produce oil and gas in the state.”
He said fracturing has “provided an American energy renaissance that has produced jobs, revenues to government and of course the much-needed domestic energy to make our nation more secure and energy self-sufficient.”
Environmental groups expressed particular concern over the sheer volume of water used to frack wells — the process can take between hundreds of thousands and millions of gallons.
“Fracking poisons the water so greatly that it can never be used for consumption again,” said Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, president of Our Santa Fe River and Save Our Suwannee. “It permanently removes precious freshwater from the water cycle for the sole purpose of quenching our insatiable need for energy.”
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said earlier in the day he would vote against the fracking bill if it came up. He said lawmakers need to take a harder look at the issue in the next regular session.
“The concern that some of us have is that is this opening the door to fracking?” he asked. “Is this an implied consent, if you will, of fracking? And that’s what has people worried.”
The state has two areas that have produced oil and gas for decades through conventional drilling: the Sunniland Trend, located in Collier, Hendry, Lee and Miami-Dade counties, and the Jay Field, located in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Production in the state peaked in the late 1970s and has been on a general decline since.
Fracking, which is already permissible in Florida, is believed to have occurred only once in the state, in late 2013 in Collier County near the Everglades.
11:20 a.m. update
Bills that environmental groups said would open the door to more fracking in Florida died this morning in the Senate, victims of the House’s early departure.
The legislation would have created a regulatory framework around fracking, including a permit process, and allowed well operators to keep chemicals used in the process secret as proprietary business information.
Both bills were up for second reading today. Sen. Garrett Richter, sponsor of the Senate version of the bills, acknowledged he didn’t have the two-thirds vote needed to waive the rules and hear the bills a third time today.
Because the House adjourned early Tuesday, it’s possible the Senate will not be in session after today. Richter asked that the bills be temporarily postponed.
Richter argued the bills would have put a moratorium in place on fracking while a study and rule making is done. But environmental groups criticized the bills as being industry-friendly and called on the Legislature to pass bans.
10 a.m. update
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said he will vote against fracking bills today should they come up for a vote.
A House bill sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would create a regulatory framework around fracking, which is already legal in Florida, and a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, would create public-records exemptions for chemicals used in the process that are considered trade secrets.
Both bills are set for second reading today by the Senate.
“There’s a lot of concern about fracking,” Montford said this morning. “Many of us understand Sen. Richter’s goal and that is to try to put more restrictions on fracking and make sure it’s done right if it’s done. The concern that some of us have is that is this opening the door to fracking? Is this an implied consent, if you will, of fracking? And that’s what has people worried.”
Montford pointed out the next regular session will begin in January and the issue can be revisited.
“We’ll be back here in a little over six months in committee meetings,” he said. “And it may be a better time then to pause and recognize just the threat if you will of fracking. Maybe we need to slow down and let’s look at it.
The surprise early adjournment of the House effectively killed a bill that would have allowed well operators to keep fracking chemicals secret as proprietary business information.
And it threw into doubt legislation that would create a regulatory framework for fracking to continue in Florida.
The House on Tuesday temporarily postponed a bill (HB 1209) that would have created a public-records exemption for fracking chemicals considered trade secrets. The bill died when the House adjourned. The House did its impromptu sine die just before the Senate began debating the House version of the regulatory bill (HB 1205).
In the middle of debate, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, asked to table the bill for the time being. The bill, among other things, would require companies to get permits before fracking; right now, companies must merely notify the state that they are taking part in the unconventional form of drilling.
“We know that a monkey wrench has been thrown into this whole process with the actions the House took just before we started debating this with their sine die,” said Richter, who sponsored the Senate’s fracking bills. “There are a lot of questions that are unanswered, that are up in the air.”
Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and the sponsor of the House bills, said it was unclear whether the regulatory bill is in jeopardy.
“That remains to be seen,” he said. “I know there are a number of amendments that had been filed. Clearly, if the bill is amended, it’s in trouble because we’re no longer in session.”
Because the House adjourned, the Senate can only pass House bills as-is. If they amend a bill, the legislation would go back to an empty chamber.
Earlier in the day, fracking opponents gathered outside Senate chambers asking senators to vote “no” on the legislation. They said the regulatory bills would allow companies to inject dangerous substances into the ground and the open-records exemption bills would allow well operators to hide the chemicals from the general public by claiming they’re trade secrets.
Original article here.