Activists are behind legislation that would ban fracking in Florida.
Activists gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to push for a bill that would ban fracking in Florida and speak out against legislation they say would lay the groundwork for the controversial form of natural-gas extraction to occur.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando and sponsor of the bill (SB 166) that would ban the practice, said fracking would cause environmental damage and harm the tourism industry. Soto spoke during a news conference hosted by ReThink Energy Florida and the Sierra Club Florida.

“When you look at the fact that we get our water from underneath the ground, the fact that tourism is a major, major employer — the biggest industry we have here — we can’t afford not only to have a spill or an issue here but even the perception that Florida is slacking in preserving our environment,” Soto said.

The bill hasn’t been heard in committee yet, but Soto said Senate President Andy Gardiner committed to giving the bill “an up-or-down look.” Soto also said he could attach amendments to relevant bills for moratoriums, increased fines and public-notice requirements.

“If we continue to stand up and we continue to protest, it puts a chilling effect on people wanting to come here,” he said. “So we’re not going to give up no matter what happens.”

Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which water, sand and chemicals are injected under high pressure into rock formations to extract natural gas. Acid fracturing, used in places with porous limestone, employs acidic chemicals at lower pressure to release natural gas.

On Tuesday, members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee approved a measure (HB 1205) that critics say would set up a regulatory framework for fracking in Florida. Activists spoke out against the bill, which is supported by the oil and gas industry.

Proponents say hydraulic fracturing is boosting domestic oil supplies and reducing the county’s dependence on foreign oil. But opponents say it causes great harm to the environment and people’s health.

Dr. Ray Bellamy of Tallahassee, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said fracking poses a grave risk to Florida’s groundwater supply at a time when the state is already facing a water crisis. He said millions of gallons of water can be used for just one fracking episode and that the back flow, roughly half of the water used, comes back contaminated with heavy metals, radioactive substances and carcinogens.

“There are complaints in the thousands from people who feel their water’s been contaminated, their kids have been made sick and their farm animals have died,” he said.

David Cullen, lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said regulation isn’t the answer.

“We don’t think there is a regulatory regime that will protect Florida’s aquifers from contamination due to fracking,” he said. “And with the alternatives that are available now in terms of renewable energy and energy efficiency, we don’t need to put Florida’s residents and visitors at risk from water contamination.”

Brian Lee, director of research and policy for ReThink Energy Florida, said he is aware of only one instance of fracking in Florida, which occurred in late 2013 in rural Collier County, not far from the Everglades. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection fined the Dan A. Hughes Co. $25,000 for violating its permit and ordered it to conduct groundwater testing after it used a procedure that critics called fracking.

Lee, a Leon Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor, said regulations proposed in the House and Senate are inadequate because they wouldn’t have prevented the fracking episode. And while proposed fines for violations would go up under the House bill, Lee said they wouldn’t be cost-prohibitive for energy companies.

“That’s why we need a ban,” he said.

Darren Soto pushes statewide fracking ban
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