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Senate committee chair seeks to ban fracking during study

An amendment filed Monday — and later withdrawn — by the chairman of a Senate committee would have placed a ban on state permits for oil and gas fracking until a study of the practice can be completed in 2016.

SB 1468 by Sen. Garrett Richter, a Republican from Bradenton, requires the state to develop rules for permitting “high-pressure well-stimulation,” which includes hydraulic fracturing — also called fracking. The bill is scheduled to be considered Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation.

The bill faces opposition from environmentalists who argue that fracking should be banned in Florida because of the threat to groundwater and drinking water supplies. They also oppose an accompanying bill, SB 1582, that would provide a public records exemption for fracking trade secrets.

Under the amendment filed and withdrawn by Sen. Charlie Dean to SB 1468, the Department of Environmental Protection would be prohibited from issuing permits for well stimulation treatments until after it completes a study by March 1, 2016. Dean is a Republican from Inverness who is committee chairman.

The amendment would not have appeased some environmental opponents who have scheduled a press conference for Tuesday to rally support for a permanent fracking ban. Bills (SB 166/HB 169) that would ban the practice have not been heard in committees.

Sen. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Kissimmee, said before the amendment was withdrawn that he would support it, but also will propose a ban of five years. Soto sits on Dean’s committee and is sponsor of the Senate bill to ban fracking.

“It would be tough for me to support any bill that allows for a regime to regulate fracking,” Soto said Monday.

Soto is scheduled to appear Tuesday at the press conference with Democratic Women’s Club of Florida President Maureen McKenna to support a fracking ban.

Rep. Ray Rodrigues, who is sponsor of the House companion bills to Richter’s fracking legislation, said he liked some aspects of the amendment, such as the more detailed requirements for the environmental study. He said his bill also requires a study but does not include a ban on new permits.

He said he is concerned that a ban during the study would extend to conventional oil and gas drilling. He said DEP stopped issuing permits in 2014 while it was studying a type of fracturing that occurred at the Dan A. Hughes Co. oil well in Collier County. A response has been requested from DEP.

“I think both of our bills could be improved with what each of ours has,” Rodrigues said prior to the amendment being withdrawn. “I think we are moving closer together.”

Sierra Club Florida is among the groups supporting the ban and opposing the bills, but the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Clean Water Action are supporting the efforts by legislators to put regulations in place.

“There are no regulations right now,” said Stephanie Kunkel, representing the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Clean Water Action. “We think those bills can be strengthened to protect the environment and public health and that is what we are working towards.”

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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