The Florida House smacked down a series of Democratic amendments aimed at weakening a bill that prohibits local governments from banning high pressure well stimulation known as fracking and positioned the bill for approval by the full House on Wednesday.
The amendments, by Reps. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, and Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, would have allowed local governments to regulate the activity, impose testing of water quality and water wells, study the effects of the fracking chemicals on human health, and require local voter approval before fracking activities being.
Fracking involves the pumping of large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground using high pressure to recover oil and gas deposits.
The bill, HB 191, is sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodriques and is being pushed by the oil and gas industry. But it is also vigorously opposed by environmental groups and 41 cities and 26 counties -- including Miami Dade and Broward counties.
A similar measure, SB 318, is also moving quickly in the Senate. According to an analysis by the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, the oil and gas industry contributed at least $443,000 to the political committees of top Republican lawmakers since the last election.
The top contributor, the Barron Collier Companies, which wants a permit to use hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil and gas in Naples, steered $178,000 to lawmakers since December 2014, including $115,000 since July. Other members of the petroleum industry have contributed another of $265,000 this election cycle.
Proponents of the bill said they won the support of the Florida Association of Counties and the League of Cities with a provision that postpones the prohibition on fracking bans until a study on the impact of the state's geology is completed in 2017.
After that, the bill allows the controversial practice to go forward with minimal local regulation but requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to enact rules to regulate and monitor the practice. The rules would then have to be ratified by the Florida Legislature.
A similar bill, by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, has passed one committee in the Senate, where the bill died last year.
Photo: Ray Kemble, a former fracking industry worker from Dimock, Penn., shows water from his and neighbors well after infiltrated by fracking chemicals.