Estero lawmaker's bill for fracking registration moves toward House floor

FILE - In this June 25, 2012 file photo, a crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

FILE - In this June 25, 2012 file photo, a crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Ray Rodrigues, Florida House of Representatives, Estero and Bonita Springs

Ray Rodrigues, Florida House of Representatives, Estero and Bonita Springs

In this April 23, 2010 photo, a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site is seen near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County. So vast is the wealth of natural gas locked into dense rock deep beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio that some geologists estimate it's enough to supply the entire East Coast for 50 years. But freeing it requires a powerful drilling process called hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking,'using millions of gallons of water brewed with toxic chemicals that some fear threaten to pollute water above and below ground, deplete aquifers and perhaps endanger human health and the environment.

AP Photo/ Ralph Wilson

In this April 23, 2010 photo, a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site is seen near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County. So vast is the wealth of natural gas locked into dense rock deep beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio that some geologists estimate it's enough to supply the entire East Coast for 50 years. But freeing it requires a powerful drilling process called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking,"using millions of gallons of water brewed with toxic chemicals that some fear threaten to pollute water above and below ground, deplete aquifers and perhaps endanger human health and the environment.

TALLAHASSEE — Hydraulic fracturing isn’t happening in Florida yet, but a proposal inching toward the state House floor puts disclosure requirements in place before the drilling begins.

However, opponents of the measure — House Bill 743, or the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero — say it doesn’t go far enough.

The bill directs the state Department of Environmental Protection to create an online registry for hydraulic fracturing — a type of oil and gas drilling commonly known as fracking. That registry, according to a House staff analysis, must include the total volume of water and the specific chemicals used in the fracking process.

Rodrigues said the legislation “lays the framework for disclosure.”

“It’s better to do this now, before we have fracturing than waiting until fracturing actually occurs,” he said during a March 28 legislative State Affairs Committee meeting.

Opponents say Rodrigues’ measure — along with a companion bill that addresses public record exemptions — isn’t as far-reaching as it seems.

“It’s a fake bill. It’s about disclosure, but it really means that it’s about making it a secret,” said David Guest, the managing attorney at Earthjustice in Tallahassee. “The problem is this doesn’t require the disclosure of the recipe.”

While the bill requires companies to disclose what’s being put into the ground, it doesn’t require the companies to list how much of each chemical is being injected.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations, which allows the release of natural gas and oil. The process has spread in recent years, with supporters saying, at least in part, that it is opening vast supplies of natural gas.

Guest said fracturing most likely would happen in Southwest Florida near the Sunniland oil wells, and in the Panhandle near existing oil wells. While drilling is already happening in the areas, Guest said Florida’s land is particularly vulnerable because of its porous nature.

“What’s underneath the ground throughout Florida is a porous limestone aquifer,” he said. “It’s almost like Swiss cheese.”

The chemicals used in the process can seep into the water supply, Guest said.

“Everyone is drinking it,” he said. “We need to know what to be testing for.”

Rodrigues said his bill would do what’s necessary, since the proposal requires companies to say what they’re putting into the ground. The measure is modeled after an existing Texas law and would give the state a chance to be “proactive, rather than reactive,” Rodrigues said.

Rodrigues said he’s aware of the opposition, but said those opposed to the bill aren’t just fighting his disclosure requirements. They’re also fighting against fracking in the state.

Andrew McElwaine, president of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, is one of those who said disclosure isn’t the problem.

“Disclosure isn’t the issue,” he said. “We shouldn’t have it in Florida. I don’t believe it’s appropriate.”

McElwaine said, however, he isn’t entirely shocked a ban hasn’t been proposed. He said he didn’t think the issue has been given much consideration or that people are aware of the potential in Southwest Florida.

“Down here, people expect it won’t be done,” he said.

Rodrigues said Floridians shouldn’t look to him to propose a ban on fracking.

It isn’t a question of whether fracking will start happening in Florida, it’s a question of when, he said.

“I think fracturing is a critical part of the future,” he said.

There is a move afoot to get a local fracturing ban in place.

John Lundin, a former Collier County Commission candidate, said he plans to discuss fracturing during Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Lundin said he is opposed to fracturing, and is hoping Collier commissioners will schedule a workshop session on the issue to look at the pros and cons of banning fracturing in Collier.

“I think fracking should not be allowed,” he said. “It’s an environmental hazard.”

Lundin said he raised the issue with commissioners a couple of months back, and some seemed to oppose fracturing. But Lundin said several months later he doesn’t “know where their state of mind is.”

Despite the push-back from environmental groups, Rodrigues said he’s thrilled his bill has cleared all of the necessary committees and is headed to the floor. The measure is one of four bills the freshman lawmaker has proposed that could be headed for a full House vote in the coming week.

“It’s an exciting time,” he said.

__The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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