Environmentalists oppose passage of this Florida fracking ban. There’s a good reason.

A crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, in 2012.
A crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, in 2012. AP file

After the bill was tabled last week following passionate testimony on both sides, a controversial proposal to ban fracking passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee Monday.

SPB 7064, filed last month, has been rife with controversy surrounding people both for and against the bill. It passed 3-2, along party lines.

Environmentalists don’t support the bill, and say the language needs to ban all forms of fracking — including matrix acidizing — in order for it to truly protect Florida’s aquifer.

Matrix acidizing is an oil extraction method performed by pumping acidic fluids into a well at a low pressure. Operators use acid to dissolve minerals and avoid damaging the rock layer around the well, but those chemicals can be toxic if they get into the aquifer. The House version of the bill does not include matrix acidizing, and an amendment to add the language didn’t pass.

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Because Florida is largely a porous plateau of limestone, matrix acidizing could be the most likely fracking technique to be used in the state.

Well drillers and lobbyists from the petroleum industry argued that matrix acidizing is mainly used to remediate damage and maintain wells that get clogged or damaged from drilling operations, and therefore should be excluded from the fracking ban.

In front of a packed committee room, Sen. Doug Broxson said the bill is “not about fracking” to begin with.

“This is about oil production. We have to have that production,” the Gulf Breeze Republican said. “Florida has very limited resources as far as what’s in the ground. Let’s not do anything to interrupt what we’ve done right for the last 60 years.”

He said some of the rhetoric given in committee testimony is “not accurate” and that some accusations were even “offensive.”

Sen. Kevin Rader punched back, saying what they were doing was a “risky proposition.”

“I don’t understand why we are taking chances,” the Delray Beach Democrat said. “It seems like an enormously dangerous thing to do. It’s changing the way Florida is going to be, and it could be for the worse.”

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Sen. Ben Albritton also proposed an amendment to protect the Everglades. The amendment, which was adopted, would:

Increase the bonding requirement for drilling in the Everglades;

Increase penalties for failure to follow Department of Environmental Protection rules;

Codify DEP rules into statute;

Add a requirement for a study on wildlife impact for an initial drilling permit;

Ban oil refining in the Everglades protection areas.

Environmentalists say if the bill is in the same shape by the time it hits the Senate floor, groups like Kanter — which recently won a permit to drill in the Everglades — could technically frack the already vulnerable land.

Albritton said since the court ruled their right to drill there “it doesn’t leave us with a lot of options.”

“The goal here would be that it would increase the safety of portions of the operations,” the Wauchula Republican said. “It will raise their costs and provide for additional safety requirements.”

In 2018, the Florida Constitution was amended to prohibit drilling for exploration or extraction of oil or natural gas on certain, more vulnerable lands.

Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled sweeping measures to protect the state’s aquifer and clean up the state’s water supply. He then went further and announced fracking bans as a priority.

If a fracking ban passes this legislative session, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection will have to revise existing rules to implement the ban.

Activists say they are disappointed in Monday’s vote.

Michelle Allen of the Florida Food and Water Watch said by refusing to include matrix acidizing and close the loophole, they do not deal with the central question.

“It’s appalling that senators have chosen to only focus on one type of fracking technique,” she said. “Most tellingly, legislators continue to use the oil industry line that matrix acidizing is just a cleaning technique when it is clear toxic chemicals are used in this type of drilling for the purposes of reaching new pockets of oil.”

A similar fracking ban bill filed by Sen. Bill Montford includes the matrix acidizing provision, but has not yet made it to its second committee stop. Environmentalists call his the “good bill.”

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“I’m reluctant to speak against the bill out of tremendous respect I have for the chair,” said Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who voted no on the bill. “What’s before us here today is core to the future of this state: the preservation of our natural resources, including water.”

Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat who co-introduced SB 314, sat in on the Monday committee meeting.

She said their vote was “very disappointing.”

“The bill that did ban every aspect of fracking now is questionable,” she said. “There’s no need for it [fracking] and to me, I think we’re endangering our water supply for the future.”

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.