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Fracking regulation bill passes House but records bill stalls

A bill that Republicans said would clamp down on oil and gas hydraulic fracturing but some Democrats said would provide a welcome mat for the practice passed the House 82-34 on Monday.

HB 1205, one of the most controversial environmental bills of the 2015 Legislative Session, passed the House largely along party lines. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection proposed the legislation.

The bill prohibits the department from issuing permits for fracturing, also known as fracking or high-pressure well-stimulation, until a study of the practice and rule-making are completed.

HB 1205 and related bills have been met with impassioned public testimony from opponents during committee stops. That was also reflected in debate on the House floor on Friday.

“I believe this is a welcome mat for fracking that should not be put down,” Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat from Miami.

But Republican supporters said fracking is allowed now in the state and that Democrats should support the bill because it will regulate it.

“I’m a little bit perplexed my friends on the back row don’t seem get what we’re really talking about today,” said Jim Boyd, a Republican from Bradenton.

DEP says fracking is not separately regulated from oil and gas drilling and that fracking can legally occur when a drilling company simply issues a notice to the department.

Democrats argued that fracking, which involves the use of sand, water and chemicals to extract oil and gas from rock, poses a threat to drinking water and the environment.

Some critics said fracking should be banned in Florida rather than regulated. Bills (SB 166/HB 169) filed by Democrats to ban fracking were not heard in House or Senate committees.

But supporters said that a regulatory “Wild, Wild West” exists now with DEP prevented from prohibiting fracking.

The department said fracking occurred in late 2013 and early 2014 by the Dan A. Hughes Co. at an oil well in Collier County. DEP filed a lawsuit last year seeking $100,000 in fines against the company.

“Frankly, I would think you would love this bill in its current state,” Boyd said. “This just adds additional regulatory ability onto the program already in place.”

Seven counties adopted resolutions supporting a ban. But Rep. Doug Broxson, a Republican from Gulf Breeze who represents the Jay area in the Panhandle where drilling has occurred, said residents in his district haven’t described any problems resulting from oil and gas production.

“To my knowledge there has never been a drop of oil produced in those counties telling us about the fear of fracking,” Broxson said.

Some Democrats said fracking could occur quickly after the bill was adopted. But bill supporters said the study and rule-making along with legal challenges could take more than two years.

“I will vote ‘yes’ because I want the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing today,” said Rep. Katie Edwards, a Democrat from Plantation.

The bill has a companion bill, HB 1209, which would provide a state public records law exemption for proprietary information provided by companies through permitting.

HB 1209 was temporarily passed Monday because some House members were absent and the vote would have been close to get the necessary two-thirds vote required for public records law exemptions, said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Estero and bill sponsor.

Meanwhile, the Senate bills, SB 1468 and SB 1582, are on the Senate special order calendar for Tuesday.

Sen. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Kissimmee, filed an amendment on Monday to prohibit new permits for fracking for two years. Another amendment would ban fracking within a mile of public drinking water wells.

Another amendment would require well operators to provide protected trade secret information about chemicals used if requested by emergency personnel.

Groups supporting the bills during committee stops included Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Petroleum Council. Opponents included Sierra Club Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and ReThink Energy Florida.

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

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