Jenna Caskey, Tallahassee fifth-grader


Fracking foes succeed after state Senate halts drilling bill

March 1, 2016 5:00 pm

UPDATED (from 2/24, 2/26) | Florida lawmakers who oppose fracking were outnumbered in the House recently and a setback in the Senate seemed likely. But opponents — including 41 cities and 27 counties — achieved a victory Tuesday when a Senate panel refused to reconsider the bill after tapping the brakes on the controversial oil drilling practice last week.

The difference Feb. 25 was a single vote (10-9) but the Appropriations Committee was able to keep SB 318 alive because of a procedural move. Sen. Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican and sponsor of the Senate version, said at first he was seeking revisions to achieve a compromise. That's over now.

oildrillingSTOCK.jpg“This is a controversial subject," Richter said in a Florida Politics story. "The controversy will continue, and I daresay it will draw even more concerns. I can pretty much assure you demand [for oil and gas] is not going to go away, but Senate Bill 318 is going away.”

And maybe the schoolkids helped sway the initial vote.

Fifth-graders from Tallahassee's Cornerstone Learning Community were among opponents who appeared during roughly three hours of testimony last week.

"Fracking should be banned in Florida because water is vital for our tourism industry, our drinking water, and of course the Everglades," Jenna Caskey said, speaking for her classmates in a hearing aired by the Florida Channel.

The House voted 73-45 Jan. 27 in favor of its fracking measure. The legislation allows the state to regulate all levels of oil and gas exploration, and mostly prohibits local communities from having any say.

“What bothers me the most is the fact that there’s so much fear about this,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who voted against the SB 318. Latvala said his office was contacted about fracking by constituents more than any issue before the Legislature combined.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Richter, Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, Don Gaetz, R-Crestview, Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs,  and Tom Lee, R-Brandon voted for the Senate bill. 

Voting no were Latvala, Anitere Flores, R-Miami, Dorothy Hukill, R-Ormond Beach, Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Lisbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers. 

“Everybody that spoke against this bill has asked for a ban,” Richter said. “A no-vote does not get you a ban.”

The stakes remain high for Florida’s natural resources, according to many local elected officials and a wide spectrum of anti-fracking activists.

“The anti-[local community] rule and trade secrets provisions make this bill totally unacceptable,” said Lynn Ringenberg, head of Physicians for Social Responsibility, part of Floridians Against Fracking, a coalition of more than 40 environmental, conservation, and health groups.

“If allowed to become law,” Ringenberg said, “the communities in and around the Everglades and Big Cypress, where fracking will first take place, will be permanently at risk of exposure to water contamination and air pollution.”

The state Department of Environmental Protection would be in charge of enforcing a fracking law. The DEP also acknowledges 90 percent of state residents get their drinking water from groundwater — ground zero for widely feared public health risks associated with fracking, such as methane pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, and drilling-induced earthquakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Counties from Leon to Miami-Dade, representing about 8 million people, have passed resolutions or ordinances banning fracking. The drilling method involves pumping large amounts of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to recover oil and gas.

The powerful Sierra Club of Florida also reached out to supporters in an broad email campaign.

The Times reported that the oil and gas industry is hugely active in backing the fracking legislation, pumping roughly $443,000 in contributions to key Republican lawmakers since the last election. Proponents says fracking recognizes new technology than can enhance energy independence for Florida and nationwide.


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