Fracking legislation a bad deal for Florida

An anti-fracking protest sign sits in the window of a residential property in Balcombe, West Sussex in the United Kingdom.
An anti-fracking protest sign sits in the window of a residential property in Balcombe, West Sussex in the United Kingdom. Bloomberg

The Florida Senate has a chance to stop fracking in Florida — and it should.

On Thursday, Senate Bill 318 will be heard by the the Senate’s Appropriations Committee Senate. A sister HB 191 bill easily passed last month in the House.

This is getting scary.

Fracking, or the common term for fracturing, is the process of drilling and then pumping water and chemicals into wells at great depths and pressures to release oil and gas from rock formations. Simply put, doing all that could endanger our water supply.

It gets worse: The proposed legislation blocks local governments from banning fracking within their boundaries. In essence, localities would be handcuffed and the public muzzled because the state wants to issue the permits and regulate fracking all by itself.

Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Lee and his Senate colleagues should reject this bill outright.

The environmental damage, in a state that uses its natural resources as a tourist draw — and at a time when there is such a glut of petroleum in the world market — is horribly misguided.

Mr. Lee had refused to hear the fast-moving bill until the state’s Department of Environmental Protection was willing to show up and answer lawmakers’ questions as to how it would protect the public’s water. Let’s see if that happens.

Among the questions: How will a $1 million study by state regulators on the affects of fracking in Florida allow us to know if the chemicals injected into the ground will not be infiltrating the water table? Good question, especially because the chemicals’ identities are exempt from disclosure. That can only mean one thing — this is a bad deal long term, but the state is willing to tolerate secrecy.

Needless to say, the fracking bills are opposed by environmental groups and dozens of local governments.

More than 30 Florida counties have passed anti-fracking ordinances. Among them are Broward and Miami-Dade, which, by the way, is a home-rule county.

And there is bipartisan displeasure. Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, and Democrat Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, both of Miami, have tried to speak up against fracking.

In the House , Rep. Rodriguez was among those who pushed for amendments to soften the impact of the bills, but was rebuffed.

Fracking is wrong for Florida because the state’s limestone terrain puts underground water sources at risk of contamination from high-pressure pumping.

All this would not be so disturbing if we had a state agency watchdog to protect citizens from contaminated ground and drinking.

But we are asked to trust the Department of Environmental Protection, which has developed a poor track record of doing the job its name suggests.

And not having a mechanism where the public must be notified of a possible environmental accident, reminds us of Flint, Michigan.

This marks the third year the House has approved the controversial bill. In the past, the Senate has not taken a floor vote, but this year, SB 318, by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, is moving more swiftly in the Senate — while many Floridians have not taken notice.

The science and the economics don’t fit the current push to make fracking part of our lives.

We urge Florida senators to stop this threat to Florida’s groundwater resources, a threat that overnight could turn into an environmental nightmare.