This week, the Florida House approved a bill that would allow fracking to take place throughout the state as early as 2017, following an inquiry into the environmental and health impacts of the practice. The bill does not require fracking companies to disclose the chemicals or potential carcinogens used in the process, however, and includes a ban on local communities banning the practice entirely.
Florida legislators also struck down attempts by Democratic lawmakers to alter the bill, opposing amendments that would have allowed local governments to regulate fracturing activity, required testing of water used in the process, and analyzed the impact of fracking chemicals on public health. Democratic lawmakers also introduced an amendment that would have required local voters to approve any fracking project before it began. That amendment was also struck down.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the oil and gas industry has been incredibly active in supporting the bill, spending at least $443,000 in contributions to top Republican lawmakers since the last election.
The bill calls for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a $1 million study looking at the potential impact of fracking on the state’s geology and water supply. The study will also look at the impact of fracking on human health, something that lawmakers argued made an amendment requiring such studies redundant.
Environmental groups in 41 cities and 27 counties vigorously opposed the bill, according to the Miami Herald. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 90 percent of the state’s residents get their drinking water from groundwater, which environmental groups and some lawmakers worry could ultimately become tainted during the fracking process.
Opponents also argued that in order to make fracking an economically valuable industry in Florida, fracking would need to become so widespread that it could impact that state’s tourism industry, which in 2011 contributed $67 billion to the state’s economy.
“In order for the fracking industry to thrive in this state, Florida will have to be drilled so many times that it will become more porous than Swiss cheese,” Rep. Dwight Dudley (D) said. “Let us not injure or kill the golden goose in pursuit of fool’s gold.”
This isn’t the first time that Florida legislators have attempted to stop municipalities from regulating fracking within their borders under the guise of passing statewide regulations on fracking. In April, the Florida House of Representatives passed a similar bill that called for regulations on statewide fracking while banning local bans on the practice, though that bill eventually died in the Senate.
The Florida House has voted to pass similar fracking bills for the past three years. The most recent bill came passed just a day after Florida’s 27th county approved a ban on fracking. The House bill does not include exemptions for counties that have already passed countywide bans. Florida’s attempts at a statewide ban on fracking bans follows similar measures passed in Texas and Oklahoma, two states where fracking has expanded rapidly in recent years.
The Florida Senate is now moving to pass its version of the bill — its sponsor, Rep. Garrett Richter (R), argued in committee that the bill is a first step towards regulating a previously unregulated industry.
“Today, there’s nothing in Florida that prohibits fracking. With this bill there will be. Today, there is not a moratorium in place … with this bill, there will be. Today, there’s no requirement that we study … with this bill there will be a study,” Richter, who represents parts of Collier and Lee counties in Southwest Florida, said.
Southwest Florida has been a target for oil and gas companies, who want to take advantage of oil fields found in the area. Barron Collier Companies, which is seeking a permit to begin fracking in Naples — located in Collier county — was the top oil and gas contributor to top Republican lawmakers since the last election, giving some $178,000 to legislators since July.