Lawmaker Introduces Bill To Ban Fracking In Florida, Citing Health And Environmental Concerns

CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Cannon

Rep. Evan Jenne speaks during the budget debate on Friday, May 8, 2009 in Tallahassee, Fla.

One Florida state representative introduced a bill this week that would ban fracking in his state, an act that comes on the heels of similar legislation introduced by two of his colleagues in the state Senate.

Florida Rep. Evan Jenne (D) filed a bill Monday that outlines the potential problems associated with fracking in Florida, including use of chemicals which, according to the bill, “may pose a widespread and significant risk to public health and safety and the environment.” The bill also cites fracking’s contribution to climate change as a reason to prohibit the practice in Florida: wells have been found to leak methane at such rates that some scientists say any climate benefit from burning low-carbon natural gas is nearly eliminated by the methane that escapes into the air during the fracking process.

The bill also noted fracking’s need for large amounts of water, saying that it made the practice irresponsible “at a time when many Florida municipalities are struggling with the impacts that water scarcity may have in the state in the near future.” Banning fracking, the bill states, will “protect the public health and welfare” of Florida.

Fracking involves injecting water, chemicals, and sand into the ground in order to break up shale rock and allow oil and gas deposits to escape.

Jenne’s bill comes about a month after two Florida senators introduced a similar fracking ban for the state. Senators Darren Soto (D) and Dwight Bullard (D) filed a bill in early December that seeks to ban the practice, which isn’t yet common in Florida but which has become the subject of debate in recent months, especially after a company was caught using an “enhanced extraction procedure” similar to fracking in an exploratory drilling operation near the Everglades last May. Florida produces moderate amounts of oil through drilling operations, but the state has small proven reserves of onshore natural gas.

Still, the lawmakers who introduced the legislation don’t want to take their chances with fracking in Florida. The state has few laws on the books that seek to regulate the practice: one bill that would have required that oil and gas companies disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process died in subcommittee last year.

“We get most of our water from the Floridian Aquifer — which is obviously an underground water source,” Rep. Soto said in December. “We are very concerned fracking could potentially do damage to this critical water supply.”

State and local fracking bans have drawn headlines over the past few years, as legislators work to find ways to protect their communities from the possible health and environmental impacts of the practice. New York announced in December that it would ban fracking in the state, citing health risks, the possibility of air and water pollution and the fact that many towns and municipalities in New York had already prohibited the practice. New York wasn’t the first state to ban fracking — Vermont took that title in 2012 — but it is the first state with significant natural gas deposits to do so. And in November of last year Denton, Texas became the first city in Texas to ban fracking.

Not everyone is a fan of these bans, however. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said last week that she thought local fracking bans were “the wrong way to go.”

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for industry to figure out what the rules are if different counties have different rules,” she told KQED.

Jewell also said that she thought there was “a lot of misinformation about fracking,” and that those who call for state and local bans might not understand the science behind fracking. But that argument is weakened when New York’s case is considered: the state based its decision to ban fracking on a five-year study by the state’s Department of Health that analyzed the risks associated with the practice, and concluded that they were too great to recommend that the practice be allowed in New York.