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Fla. House OKs 'fracking' disclosure bill

Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- In a pre-emptive move, the Florida House voted Wednesday evening to require oil and natural gas companies to disclose the chemicals pumped underground as part of hydraulic fracturing operations — a process better known as "fracking."

That method for extracting oil or gas hasn't been used in the Sunshine State to date, but supporters of the measure say parts of the Panhandle and southwest Florida have been identified as as geological areas suitable for fracking.

The bill, which passed on 92-19 vote, would direct the state Department of Environmental Protection to establish and maintain an online chemical registry for wells where fracking is being done.

"We need this kind of accountability when there's even a chance of spills or certainly getting into our water," said Rep. Joe Gibbons, a Hallandale Beach Democrat.

Similar legislation is being considered in the state Senate with less than a week and a half left in the 60-day legislative session.

The fracking process pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with fine sand and chemicals deep into oil and gas wells. The water splits open oil- and gas-bearing rock. Specially formulated fracking fluids help carry the sand into the newly formed fissures and keep the cracks propped open.

In some places, however, the practice has been blamed for air pollution and gas leaks that have ruined well water.

Soon after the bill (HB 743) was passed, the House delayed action on a follow-up measure that would prevent public disclosure of those fracking chemicals classified as part of trade secrets.

That bill (HB 745) was stalled after its opponents said it would undo much of the disclosure requirements contained in the prior measure.

Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, warned that if the follow-up bill becomes law, oil and gas developers would use the trade-secret exemption to shield the public from knowing most of what is pumped underground during fracking.

"We're going to find out that we have water going into the ground," he said.

Among oil- and natural gas-producing states, at least 15 require some disclosure of information about the chemicals used during fracking, according to a staff analysis of the disclosure bill that cleared the House.

As part of disclosure bill that passed, the state environmental protection agency would have to provide a link through its website to a national fracking chemical registry operated by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

Some lawmakers worried that the tandem of bills would be an inducement for oil and gas drillers to begin using fracking operations in Florida.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, called it "one more slab in laying the foundation for fracking in Florida."

She called for greater study on the potential harm that fracking could do to Florida's "fragile ecosystem."

Supporters of the disclosure bill said fracking is already allowed in Florida. Rep. Ray Rodrigues, lead sponsor of both bills, said the proposals aren't an invitation to oil and gas drillers to use the process.

"They're already here," the Estero Republican said. "They've already invested their money in leases. The question is this, now that they're here, are we going to make them tell us what they're putting into the ground.

"I would rather know than not know, and if you truly want to protect the environment, I would think you would want to know than not know."

He didn't give an explanation for temporarily bypassing the other bill.