A Republican state senator who faced a competitive election in which opponents accused her of being pro-fracking has filed legislation to ban the controversial practice in Florida.
Sen. Dana Young of Tampa, the former House Republican leader elected to the Senate in November, wants the state to ban "advanced well stimulation treatment," specifically hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing and matrix acidizing which use high pressure techniques to inject water into rock formations to extract oil and gas.
Young, who practices environmental and land use law, last year voted for a House bill to regulate and authorize the technique in Florida beginning in 2017 after a study. She told the Herald/Times the proposal this year was not so much a change of heart as an opportunity to better understand what voters want and expect in Florida.
"I'm absolutely in favor of energy independence and in favor of harnessing our natural resources safely but Florida is unique,'' she said Monday. "I believe, and it is the belief of most Floridians, that our fragile limestone geology and fragile environment as a whole is incompatible with fracking of any kind. So it's a balancing act."
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The Florida oil and gas industry swiftly came out in opposition to the proposed legislation.
Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica called said the bill "is out-of-step with Florida consumers and families who are seeing the economic benefits of domestic energy development."
He said the "decades-old technique of hydraulic fracturing has led to lower energy costs for consumers and improvements in the environment" and warned that if the ban passes it "could undermine the benefits that Florida families and consumers are seeing today.”
But Young says her bill is designed to allow existing extraction technologies to continue in Florida but ban "advanced well stimulation treatment," specifically hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing and matrix acidizing which use high pressure techniques to inject water into rock formations to extract oil and gas.
She cited Florida's "fragile limestone geology and fragile environment as a whole" for concluding that Florida "is incompatible with fracking of any kind."
Mica cited a December 2016 study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency which he said did not find evidence that hydraulic fracturing "leads to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States."
During her campaign, the left-leaning advocacy Florida Strong accused Young of benefiting from the proceeds of her husband's investment firm, which has had stakes in companies that profit from the oil industry. Young dismissed the claims as distortions of her record.
Under the bill proposed last year, the state would impose a two-year moratorium on fracking while the Department of Environmental Protection would study the impact of hydraulic fracturing and similar technologies on Florida and propose rules to regulate it. The rules would have had to come back to the Legislature for ratification.
While proponents of the measure, like Young, focused on the two-year ban as the key feature of the bill, environmentalists focused on the parts that prohibited local governments from imposing their own bans or regulations, shielded from public disclosure the specific list of chemicals used in the process and ultimately opened the door to fracking.
Environmentalists cited the state’s fragile water table, the latent impact the bill could have on public health, and urged lawmakers to pass a bill proposed by Democrats to ban fracking instead. The bill didn't get a hearing in either of the Republican-led chambers.
Young, who faced Democrat Bob Buesing and no-party candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove during the election, said her views changed "as the fracking issue became front and center" in the campaign.
"I learned more and it became an important issue, not only for my region but for our whole state,'' she said. "I'm fulfilling my contract with the voters to get it passed."
Young acknowledged that the oil and gas industry does not support her bill but believes that her measure will get widespread support from legislators and environmentalists. A companion measure in the state House is being co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Miller, R-Orlando, who also faced a competitive election in November, and House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa.
"It's very, very tightly drafted to not impact traditional oil and gas extraction processes,'' Young said. "Some people may want to do away with that but this legislation is not designed to adversely impact the traditional oil and gas operations in our state."