As the prospect of drilling for oil inches ever closer to the Everglades, a Senate committee passed a measure to prohibit local governments from banning the controversial practice of drilling for natural gas known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, but only after strengthening the protections against possible contamination and requiring lawmakers to sign off on any regulations.
The Florida Senate Environmental Protection and Conservation Committee surprised environmentalists by agreeing to a series of amendments that strengthen oversight of the practice — by requiring inspection of groundwater before and after the drilling begins — but the bill still allows companies to seek a permit to shoot thousands of gallons of water and acid into rock formations to release oil and gas trapped in the bedrock, known as acidization.
The proposal, by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, would require the Department of Environmental Protection to establish rules governing the process but it would also halt the ability of local governments to write local ordinances. Broward County has scheduled a hearing to become one of about 60 local governments that ban the practice as a wealthy developer has applied for a permit to drill for oil on the edge of the Everglades.
John Kanter, of Kanter Real Estate, has requested a drilling permit to conduct exploratory drilling for oil and gas along a major drainage canal about a half-dozen miles west of U.S. 27 and Miramar. Under current law, the state may grant the permit and impose no requirement that the chemicals be disclosed or groundwater be tested.
Under the bill, SB 318, a version of which is also moving in the state House, state regulators would conduct a $1 million, one-year study to determine what impact the chemicals used in the fracking process would have on the state drinking-water supply and then write new rules regulating the practice, beginning in 2017.
The regulations would include how the contaminated water and chemicals will be disposed of and the study will consider the potential for water contamination once a well has been plugged. Concerned about the impact to the state’s water system, the Senate included a provision that will require testing of ground water before and after the drilling occurs and require that any rules developed by state officials get a vote of approval from the Legislature.
“It would give our constituents who have a lot of nervousness about this a little more comfort in knowing the folks they are electing are going to take one more look before we start fracking in the State of Florida,” said Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who proposed the amendment.