Fracking inched one step closer to becoming a reality in Florida Wednesday when the Florida House of Representatives passed a pro-fracking bill by a vote of 73-45.
HB 191, sponsored by Reps. Ray Rodrigues and Cary Pigman, would prohibit localized counties from banning fracking, a drilling process which recovers oil and gas from shale rock.
The bill would also require the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study on the impact fracking would have on Florida. The department would then write rules regulating fracking after the study had been completed. Regulations would begin in 2017.
Drillers would need to obtain permits before beginning fracking. Anyone violating the legislation would be fined $25,000 a day per violation. Fracking supporters say the process is good for the economy since it increases oil production, driving down gas prices and giving gas security in countries where fracking is allowed.
Republican lawmakers onboard with the legislation said the proposal was just a way to regulate the industry, since fracking is already allowed in the Sunshine State.
But environmentalists and opponents of the bill say fracking could have dire consequences for the people of Florida, putting millions of lives at risk as a result of the process. They say fracking would be harmful for people and the environment, potentially posing health problems by contaminating groundwater.
“It should be called the Anything For Money bill,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.
Slosberg and House Democrats slammed the bill, citing fears for their constituents’ and their families’ lives.
"There are many things about this bill that disturb me,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale. "As a parent, I have a responsibility to protect my family, as we all do."
The bill’s supporters, however, said the legislation was merely a regulatory bill and another example of a controversy state lawmakers face as just another part of their jobs.
"The controversies we face...aren't new,” said Rep. Rodrigues, alluding to the introduction of electricity, modern cars and the Kennedy Space Center as some examples of environmental issues the Florida Legislature has tackled and passed, changing the lives of average Floridians for the better.
Ultimately, the bill passed on party lines. The bill’s passage was four years and 17 committee meetings in the making.
Associated Industries of Florida Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis chimed in on the legislation, applauding state lawmakers for voting to approve it.
“By working in good faith with concerned citizens and third parties, we believe that the final product of HB 191 both appropriately empowers the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to properly regulate the onshore oil and gas industry, and also ensures the protection and preservation of Florida’s environment,” he said.
Kevin Doyle, Florida executive director of the Consumer Energy Alliance, commended Rodrigues and Pigman for their sponsorship of HB 191.
Supporting the safe, responsible development energy will create a welcoming environment for the Florida economy and consumers," Doyle said in a prepared statement. "Energy is a key ingredient in everything we do as a state, and we need to promote policies that support expanded responsible development of American resources.
"We can protect our environment while also promoting energy development and security. The votes today are a good step in that direction and we look forward to monitoring this legislation as it now advances to the Florida Senate. We also commend Sen. Garrett Richter for his sponsorship of the Senate version of this legislation."
The bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Rick Scott before it becomes law.