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A woman holds an anti-cracking sign during a press conference with House and Senate Democrats and the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida in support of legislation to ban hydraulic fracturing. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

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Senate bill amended to ban fracking during study, rule-making

A bill that would regulate oil and gas hydraulic fracturing was amended by a Senate Committee on Tuesday to place a moratorium on the activity until after a study is completed 2016.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “high-pressure well-stimulation” or “fracking,” is a process involving the use of water, sand and chemicals to extract oil and gas from rock.

Supporters say SB 1468 is needed to provide regulation for fracking like which occurred in 2013 in Collier County. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says fracking is allowed and that more regulations are needed.

Opponents say the bill could open the door for more fracking in the Florida, which they say threatens drinking water supplies. They support bills that would ban fracking, but they are likely dead because they haven’t been heard in committees.

SB 1468 was amended Tuesday to require a study by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to be completed by March 1, 2016 and implement rules. A DEP representative said the bill would prohibit fracking until the study and rule-making are complete.

“I’ve seen rule-makings go as quickly as three to four months,” DEP Deputy Secretary Paula Cobb said. “I’ve seen rule-making take years. I think it’s going to depend upon when we open this up for rule-making: What does this look like? What are the concerns? What are the protections that are required?”

But the bill, and a bill that prevents disclosure of proprietary business information related to fracking, continue to face opposition from Sierra Club Florida and ReThink Energy Florida. And the Conservancy of Southwest Florida now is opposing the bills after previously supporting votes to move them through committees so they could be amended later.

SB 1468 as amended passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government by an 8-0 vote and has one more committee stop. Meanwhile, the House version of the bill, HB 1205, passed its final committee stop, the House State Affairs Committee, by a 12-5 vote.

HB 1205, which calls for a study to be completed by June 30, 2016, does not provide for a moratorium during the study. The House bill does state there will not be a moratorium on conventional oil and gas drilling while the study is conducted.

Sen. Garrett Richter, a Republican from Naples, said he didn’t know the details of the House bill related to the study and moratorium.

“We had a difference in the study from the onset,” Richter said. “I’m not interested in doing things fast; I’d rather them right.”

Rep. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Estero who is sponsor of HB 1205, said his bill would establish a “de facto ban” by setting up a separate permitting process for fracking.

“I believe the moratorium exists under either bill,” Rodrigues said. “Once you have established differentiated permitting and fracking requires a separate permit, then no one can do it without a DEP permit.”

He previously told Floridapolitics.com that he is concerned that a moratorium on fracking could hamper permitting for conventional oil drilling.

After the Senate subcommittee amended the Senate companion bill to include the moratorium, Rodrigues said he would have to look at the language to determine whether he would support it.

“The study was the major difference between the bills,” Rodrigues said. “Since they adopted the study as an amendment, I think the bills are very close together.”

Meanwhile, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida says it no longer supports the bills. The group supports the study but also wants amendments to clarify the definition of fracking, and require bonds and insurance to ensure drillers are responsible for accident cleanups rather than taxpayers.

Groups supporting the bill include the Florida Petroleum Council and Associated Industries of Florida. AIF’s Brewster Bevis said the bill would provide regulatory certainty for the oil and gas industry.

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

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