A group of lawmakers has introduced a bill in Florida that would prohibit hydraulic fracturing — commonly referred to as fracking — in the state. It’s the latest salvo in a years-long legislative standoff between oil and gas interests and environmentalists concerned about water quality.
This year, the bill seems to capture the popular sentiment in the state. Fracking is currently legal in Florida, but it isn’t taking place, because lawmakers have not figured out exactly how it will be regulated. For the past few years, competing bills have been introduced either to regulate or to ban the practice, during which large volumes of chemical- and sand-laced water are injected into underground rock formations, releasing oil or natural gas.
The latest bill is significant because it is both bicameral and bipartisan. Unlike earlier versions, it does not explicitly state why fracking should be banned in the state.
“In the past three years we’ve seen support from local elected officials building, but this time around there seems to be a change in tone,” Food and Water Watch’s Jackie Filson told ThinkProgress via email. “Elected officials are coming forward for an all-out ban. It’s the first year we’ve had bipartisan legislation introduced.”
More than 90 towns and cities in Florida have already banned the practice of fracking, according to Food and Water Watch — although two bills were introduced last year that would have preempted local fracking bans. The House bill passed, but its companion died in a Senate committee. Filson said it is unlikely the bills will be reintroduced this year.
“Support from Florida residents has always been there, but the grassroots, on-the-ground fight for a fracking ban is definitely at its height,” Filson said.
Already, a number of local papers have come out in support of banning fracking in the state.
“Florida’s karst geology makes it particularly prone to the dangers of fracking. There is no reason to risk poisoning the aquifer that supplies our drinking water and feeds our region’s natural springs,” writes the Daily Commercial (Leesburg).
The Floridian Aquifer covers nearly all of the state, as well as southern Georgia, coastal Alabama, and the southeast corner of Louisiana. Opponents to fracking in Florida worry about the potential for widespread contamination.
The chemicals used in fracking are proprietary — operators often don’t have to disclose what they are — but include several known carcinogens and are heavily saline, which means that they cannot be mixed with fresh drinking water and can cause problems in irrigation. Fracking wastewater has been tied to increased levels of benzene in local water supplies. The fracking process, too, is a health hazard. A recent report found that living, working, or going to school near fracking operations is correlated with asthma and other respiratory problems.
Still, oil and gas operators would love to open Florida to fracking. And they aren’t the only ones. The state gets two-thirds of its electricity from natural gas, which means the utilities there — a powerful political group —are invested. Those same utilities have played a major role in trying — fairly successfully — to curb rooftop solar in the state, which has the third-highest capacity for rooftop solar in the country and only ranks 14th in installations.
Florida has the third-highest electricity consumption in the United States, behind only California and Texas.
The federal Energy Information Agency reports that Florida might have large offshore natural gas and oil deposits, raising another concern: In nearby Louisiana, producers have been fracking for oil in coastal waters, and environmentalists worry about illegal wastewater dumping in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The potential dangers from fracking in Florida far outweigh the benefits,” the Sun Sentinel’s editorial board wrote in December. But they continued, “a statewide ban on fracking won’t address all the energy issues facing our state, including increased talk of offshore drilling.”