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Oil and gas industry warns that fracking ban will 'undermine' energy development

Dana Young@Mary EllenKlas

Florida's oil and gas industry swiftly let their opposition be known to a bill filed Tuesday by Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Rep. Mike Miller that would ban oil and gas fracking in Florida. 

Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica called said the bill "is out-of-step with Florida consumers and families who are seeing the economic benefits of domestic energy development."

He said the "decades-old technique of hydraulic fracturing has led to lower energy costs for consumers and improvements in the environment" and warned that if the ban passes it  "could undermine the benefits that Florida families and consumers are seeing today.”

But Young says her bill is designed to allow existing extraction technologies to continue in Florida but ban "advanced well stimulation treatment," specifically hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing and matrix acidizing which use high pressure techniques to inject water into rock formations to extract oil and gas.

She cited Florida's "fragile limestone geology and fragile environment as a whole" for concluding that Florida "is incompatible with fracking of any kind."

Mica cited a December 2016 study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency which he said did not find evidence that hydraulic fracturing "leads to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States."

He noted that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection contracted its own independent study to evaluate the impacts to the aquifer in Collier County following a 2014 hydraulic fracturing operation and concluded "there were no indications of fluids injected at the well in the aquifer."

“The technology has been proven safe, and Florida is realizing the economic and environmental benefits of its use,” he said in a media release. “Thanks in part to the increased use of domestic natural gas, ozone concentrations in the air have dropped by 17 percent since 2000, all of which makes the United States not just an energy superpower, but also a leader in reducing global emissions. Let’s not move backwards when the gains of energy security are important for Florida families.”

But environmentalists cite the state’s fragile water table as a reason not to risk the procedure in Florida and said the impact of the toxins on the water system on public health could take years to determine. 

Last year, a bill to impose a two-year moratorium on fracking and study the potential impact was passed in the House, where Young voted for it, but died in the Senate.

Since then, the energy industry has contributed $9 million to election campaigns in the 2016 cycle, including $71,000 to Young's political committee, Friends of Dana Young.

This year, Young's ban has bi-partisan support and she believes it has broad Republican support. At a press conference to announce the bill on Tuesday, Young was joined by Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, Keith Perry, R-Gainesville and Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale at a press conference Tuesday to announce the bill.

Environmental groups commended the proposal. 

“We applaud Senator Young for listening to her constituents and Floridians across the state who want a ban on fracking," said Jennifer Rubiello, state director for Environment Florida, a non-profit advocacy organization. "A ban on fracking will ensure our communities, our health, and our environment are better protected. Floridians should celebrate this bill, pick up their phones, and tell their state senators to support it."

Photo: Dana Young, by Tampa Bay Times.