TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The Senate Appropriations Committee narrowly defeated a bill Thursday that would set regulations for fracking, a method of oil and gas drilling that environmentalists have opposed over fears it could contaminate drinking water and make people ill.
The 10-9 vote against the bill was immediately followed by a procedural maneuver to technically keep the bill alive, but it’s clear the Senate doesn’t have the same appetite as the House for a bill opponents say would further open the state to the practice of blasting chemicals and water underground to get at oil and gas deposits.
“What bothers me the most is the fact that there’s so much fear about this,” said Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, who said he has been contacted about fracking by constituents as much as every other issue before the Legislature combined.
Latvala was also concerned that drillers would have to disclose chemicals used in fracking to the state, but the state wouldn’t have to reveal them to the public because they would be protected trade secrets.
The bill (SB 318) would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to study the effects of fracking and then write regulations for the practice. It would also prevent cities and counties from banning fracking on their own, a sticking point for some lawmakers.
Opponents advocated for a fracking ban, but bill sponsor Sen. Garrett Richter said the House won’t support a ban and it’s highly unlikely Gov. Rick Scott would sign a ban into law.
“That’s not a realistic option at this point. I would love to be 6-foot-8. That is never going to happen in my lifetime,” Richter said.
And he argued that fracking is now allowed under state law and the bill would provide protections to make sure it is done safely.
“Everybody that spoke against this bill has asked for a ban,” said Richter, R-Naples. “A no vote does not get you a ban.”
The House already passed a similar bill (HB 191). Appropriations chairman Sen. Tom Lee said the bill could be reconsidered when the committee meets again next week, but would only be voted on if changes are made that would likely result in an affirmative vote.