Two forms of fracking for oil and natural gas exploration would be banned in Florida under a bill that cleared a state House panel Tuesday, leaving in place a third technique opponents say would still threaten water supplies and the state’s fragile environment.
The House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture and natural resources voted 10-2 for the bill, which would permit a rock-dissolving technique called matrix acidizing but ban two other common forms of fracking.
Environmental groups call that a loophole, putting underground aquifers at risk of contamination from potentially dangerous chemicals. The petroleum industry also opposes the bill because it would halt use of other fracking techniques.
But legislators who voted in favor called the measure a major step forward in curbing the practice in Florida.
“Is it completely perfect? Is it everything we want? No, it’s not,” said Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs of Coconut Creek. “We have to do something. The idea that we’re not going to act because it isn’t perfect, I reject.”
A state Senate committee planned to take up its version of the fracking bill later Tuesday. It also leaves in place the matrix acidizing fracking procedure.
Only New York, Vermont and Maryland have enacted total bans on fracking, which uses high-pressure liquids to create cracks in underground rock, allowing pockets of oil and gas to flow freely.
Nationwide, fracking has been credited with dramatically increasing U.S. oil and natural gas production, with about two-thirds of the nation’s active wells using fracking techniques. Yet critics have long been concerned about environmental issues, including a sharp increase of earthquakes in Oklahoma, possible water and air contamination and use of deep ground injection to dispose of waste.
In Florida, environmental groups say the state’s porous limestone rock makes fracking an even greater threat, particularly since most of the state’s drinking water comes from underground aquifers. And that, they say, includes the chemical-laden matrix acidizing procedure most commonly used to clean and maintain wells.
“From our perspective it’s not a fracking ban unless all forms of fracking are banned,” said Kim Ross of Rethink Energy Florida.
The oil and gas industry opposes the measure for different reasons. David Mica of the Florida Petroleum Council said fracking is largely responsible for greater U.S. energy independence, cheaper fuel supplies and tens of thousands of jobs across the country.
“We’ve made America the super energy power it is today. Actions like this today do not move us in that direction, it moves us in a regressive direction,” Mica said.
Most oil and natural gas in Florida is produced in the northwest and southern parts of the state. Production peaked at 47 million barrels in 1978 but has since dropped to 2 million barrels in 2017, according to a Senate staff analysis. As of last year, there were 57 active wells in the state.
There have recently been five small earthquakes along the Florida-Alabama border where some oil and gas production takes place. Experts are unsure of the cause.
Keep up with the latest in South Florida politics at SunSentinel.com/politics