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Senate committee reverses years of opposition and passes fracking ban

The Florida Senate reversed years of opposition to a statewide ban on oil and gas fracking and advanced a bill Tuesday that will prohibit the controversial practice in Florida.

The Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation voted unanimously to prohibit  "advanced well stimulation treatment," specifically hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing and matrix acidizing -- the high pressure process that is used to inject water into rock formations to extract oil and gas.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, who reversed her opposition to a fracking ban last year, promising voters in her newly-drawn Senate seat that she would make passage of the ban a top priority. 

"This has been a wonderful journey,'' Young said, acknowledging the shift in position since she voted for a House bill lasts year that would have regulated and authorize fracking beginning in 2017, after a state study. 

She held up a rock of Florida karst limestone: "It is fragile. It is porous,'' she said. "Florida is unique. Florida is special and we do not have to be like every other state in the nation."

Opposing the bill were Exxon Mobile, the Florida Chamber, the James Madison Institute, the Heartland Institute of Washington, D.C., the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Petroleum Council which argued that Florida's ban would be the strictest in the nation, that hydraulic fracturing has been proven safe in other states and must remain an option if Florida is to meet its energy needs. 

Dave Mica, president of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the state consumes 27 million gallons of gasoline every day in the state, the third largest amount in the country, and most of the natural gas used in the state comes from the process of hydraulic fracking. "We have a shared interest in our industry to protect energy resources."

Jake Kramer, attorney at Stearns, Weaver, Millers which represents Collier Resources, the company that has shown an interest in drilling for natural gas in Florida, warned that the measure "will be a lightening rod for litigation in this state.''

Noting that large landowners will be forced to bring lawsuits against the state because the bill could deprive them of access to subsurface minerals, he said the bill will open the door to lawsuits that claim the measure would qualify as an economic taking and qualify landowners for compensation.

But Young disagreed. She said the bill does not foreclose mineral rights and does not prohibiting traditional oil and gas exploration.

"There may be some uncertainty but the question is are you willing to roll the dice with the future of our state?,'' she said. "Are you willing to roll the dice with the future of our environment?"