Four bills currently working their way through the Florida Legislature would put some regulations in place for any company looking to mine, or frack, for natural gas in the state.
Local newspapers have reported that some oil and gas companies have shown an interest in seeking out natural gas in South Florida’s Sunniland Trend – an onshore oil reserve stretching from Fort Myers to Miami.
While there currently is no natural gas mining in Florida, environmentalists say these bills might lay the groundwork for future mining.
Environmentalists have their eyes on four different natural gas bills this legislative session. Florida Audubon Society Legislative Director Mary Jean Yon said it’s a sign of things to come.
“I think all of these bills together are an open invitation to come frack,” Yon said.
Fracking is a way to mine for natural gas underground by pumping large amounts of water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure. The water breaks rock formations below the earth and releases the gas.
One of the four bills requires energy companies to disclose what chemicals they are using if they decide to frack in Florida. Another bill gives those same companies an exemption from public record requirements for “trade secrets” related to fracking.
A third bill would speed up the permitting process for building natural gas pipelines through the state. The fourth would set up a way for companies to store natural gas underground.
State Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, introduced the underground natural gas storage bill.
He said right now Florida is importing a lot natural gas from other states and has few places to store reserves. Eagle says his bill would help move the state forward.
“If we can at least start the conversation now as storage maybe we can look at production and development in the future,” he said.
David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said fracking would be a great thing for Florida. He said it would bring in more jobs for Floridians, as well as more revenue for the state government.
“Obviously, our industry is trying to afford the opportunity across the country and everywhere we think there is potential for oil and gas development to create new sources of American-based energy,” he said.
Fracking has been a booming industry in other states. It’s brought in high-skilled labor and has moved the U.S. away from some of its dependence on foreign energy. But it’s also raised concerns from people who say fracking has polluted groundwater and has weakened underground rock formations.
Yon said in Florida that’s a real concern.
“If you take a look at what happens day to day in Florida in terms of sinkholes and other things that show with our limestone foundation that we are really are vulnerable and our water resources are too precious to be able to waste on this sort of risk,” she said.
Yon said if all four bills pass the state would have a regulatory framework ripe for fracking in Florida.
“It’s not worth the risk to our environment to have that political invitation out there,” she said.
For right now, geologists have said Florida is an unlikely place for fracking. They said the state’s geology just isn’t ideal.
The Florida Petroleum Council’s Mica, however, said these laws should be in place anyway.
“You know, I think a preparation type of activity like this to put a system in place should we develop the types of technology that lends itself to the geology of southwest Florida would certainly be appropriate,” he said.
All four bills have already passed through at least one House committee. However, none of them have been considered in a Senate committee yet.