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Research & Commentary: Local Control of Fracking in Florida

February 12, 2016

In January 2016, the Florida House of Representatives voted to pass a bill that would prevent local governments from banning or placing moratoria on the practice of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” in their jurisdictions.

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In January 2016, the Florida House of Representatives voted to pass a bill that would prevent local governments from banning or placing moratoria on the practice of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” in their jurisdictions. The legislation mandates “all matters relating to the regulation of the exploration, development, production, processing, storage, and transportation of oil and gas are preempted to the state.” Forty-one different cities and 27 counties in Florida have voted to ban fracking or have expressed their opposition to it since January 2015.

The bill would also temporarily disallow fracking throughout the state until the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducts a study in 2017 on the impact the process will have on the state’s water supply. Under the legislation, the earliest any permitting could take place in the state would be in 2018, but these permits would need to be reviewed again for any potential groundwater contamination. Any drilling company applying for a permit under the proposed bill would also be required to disclose all chemicals used in the fracking process to DEP within 60 days. That information would then be entered into a public database called FracFocus. Fracking businesses would not be required to disclose any chemical considered to be a trade secret, unless ordered to do so by a court.

Opposition to fracking in Florida stems partly from environmental concerns over the possibility the process could contaminate the Everglades National Park or ground water in the Floridan or Biscayne aquifers, which provide drinking water to most of the state’s population.

While no fracking is currently being conducted in the state, the process has been used in the past, and Florida has a long history of oil and natural gas extraction. According to DEP, “Over 1,000 permitted wells have been drilled [in Florida] since 1943. During this timeframe, the petroleum industry has safely produced 611 million barrels of crude oil and 689 billion cubic feet of natural gas. … There have been no major accidents, spills, or blowouts in Florida’s history.”

In a multi-year study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, researchers found fracking has not led to systemic impacts on drinking water. “The number of cases where drinking water resources were impacted is small relative to the number of hydraulically fractured wells,” wrote the authors of the report.

Some are concerned the legislation would improperly take power away from local governments and communities, but blocking municipal fracking bans is not an unprecedented step. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed into law the Sooner State’s own bill banning local fracking ordinances in June 2015. “[Oklahoma Corporation Commission] commissioners are elected by the people of Oklahoma to regulate the oil and gas industry,” said Fallin at the time of the signing. “They are best equipped to make the decisions about drilling and its effect on seismic activity, the environment, and other sensitive issues. The alternative is to pursue a patchwork of regulations that … could arbitrarily ban energy exploration and damage the state’s largest industry, largest employers, and largest taxpayers.”

The hydraulic fracturing process has transformed the energy outlook of the United States, and fracking has already been utilized in Florida for many years in a safe, environmentally responsible manner. Isaac Orr, a research fellow for The Heartland Institute, wrote, “State governments are uniquely qualified to work with environmental and industry leaders to craft legislation that protects the environment while maintaining the vibrancy of the oil and gas industry.”

The decision made by the Florida House of Representatives to put the state government in control of regulating fracking is a step in the right direction to ensure a safe, responsible fracking process will be available to Floridians for decades to come.

The following documents provide additional information about hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking Facts: The Science, Economics, and Legal Realities
https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/fracking-facts-science-economics-and-legal-realities
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been employed in the United States since the 1940s. Although innovation has improved the precision of the process, the essentials are the same. Utilizing horizontal drilling, a mixture of mostly water, sand, and trace amounts of chemicals, are used to create fissures in underground shale deposits to allow oil and natural gas trapped in hard rock to move toward the surface to be collected. Activists have blamed fracking and the processes associated with it for emissions of pollutants, earthquakes, and even groundwater contamination, though independent evidence consistently shows these allegations to be false. Leigh Thompson of the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues the evidence supporting fracking bans looks slim when attention is drawn to the facts.

Hydraulic Fracturing a Game-Changer for U.S. Energy and Economies
https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/hydraulic-fracturing-game-changer-us-energy-and-economies
In this Policy Study from The Heartland Institute, Heartland Research Fellow Isaac Orr explains the advantages and disadvantages of smart drilling and its alternatives. Orr reviews the background and potential of hydraulic fracturing in the United States and puts that potential in the context of the supply of and demand for oil and gas. He addresses the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, both positive and negative, as well as the public safety issues raised by activists, such as potential harm to drinking water supplies. Orr also discusses how oil and gas production is regulated at the state and national levels and suggests appropriate policies for the industry.

Betty Grande: Fracking and Earthquake Misconceptions
https://www.heartland.org/podcasts/2015/04/30/bette-grande-fracking-and-earthquake-misconceptions
In this edition of the Heartland Daily Podcast, Research Fellow Isaac Orr and Research Fellow Bette Grande discuss earthquakes and their relationship with hydraulic fracturing. Grande also gives the listeners an inside look at the state of oil production in North Dakota in the wake of falling oil prices. 

Hydraulic Fracturing: Critical for Energy Production, Jobs, and Economic Growth
https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/hydraulic-fracturing-critical-energy-production-jobs-and-economic-growth
Increased energy production on private lands in the United States has been one of the most promising economic success stories in recent years. A large part of the success is due to an energy-extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing. Misconceptions about hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, abound. The Heritage Foundation’s Nicolas Loris explains hydraulic fracturing is safe when regulated effectively and says fracking greatly increases the nation’s energy production, thus promoting job creation.

Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources
https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/assessment-potential-impacts-hydraulic-fracturing-oil-and-gas-drinking-water-reso-0
This assessment from the Environmental Protection Agency provides a review and synthesis of available scientific literature and data to assess the potential impact hydraulic fracturing may have on the quality or quantity of drinking water resources, and it identifies factors affecting the frequency or severity of any potential impacts. The scope of this assessment is defined by the hydraulic fracturing water cycle, which includes five main activities: water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, flowback and produced water, and wastewater treatment and waste disposal.

Injection Wells and Earthquakes: Quantifying the Risks
https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/injection-wells-and-earthquakes-quantifying-risk
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), approximately 150,000 Class II injection wells are used in connection with oil and natural gas activities across the United States. These include wells for secondary or enhanced recovery, in which wastewater is returned to the reservoir from where it originated to “enhance” the flow of hydrocarbons, as well as disposal wells, where wastewater is disposed in non-producing formations. Roughly 40,000 of these wells are designated for disposal, according to USGS. Data from USGS and several peer-reviewed studies show that out of an estimated 40,000 disposal wells across the United States, only 218 of them have been linked to a possible cause of seismicity. In other words, only 0.15 percent of all Class II injection wells and 0.55 percent of all federally regulated disposal wells in the United States have been tangentially associated with a seismic event of any size. This means 99.85 percent of all the Class II wells in the United States and 99.45 percent of all disposal wells continue to operate without any issues related to seismicity.

Managing the Risk of Hydraulic Fracturing: An Update
https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/managing-risks-hydraulic-fracturing-update
This study from the Fraser Institute shows research on the safety of hydraulic fracturing indicates the risks posed by fracking, such as induced seismicity and ground water contamination, are readily manageable with available technologies and best practices.

Potential Injection-Induced Seismicity Associated with Oil & Gas Development: A Primer on Technical and Regulatory Considerations Informing Risk Management and Mitigation
https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/potential-injection-induced-seismicity-associated-oil-gas-development-primer-techni
The proliferation of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” for the production of oil and natural gas has helped to create an energy revolution in the United States. Fracking has led to decreasing oil imports, numerous economic opportunities, and increased energy security, but it has also come with some environmental concerns. One of those concerns is earthquakes. Although scientists have concluded hydraulic fracturing itself is not a significant mechanism for inducing earthquakes large enough to be felt at Earth’s surface, the disposal of wastewater generated from oil and natural gas wells into underground injection wells has led to a series of manmade earthquakes in some parts of the country. In order to eliminate or reduce these induced earthquakes caused by wastewater disposal wells, state regulators, geologists, seismologists, industry, and environmental groups worked together to create this 148-page report detailing how earthquakes can be caused and the best ways to mitigate the risks associated with fluid disposal.

Fracking and Earthquakes
https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/fracking-and-earthquakes
Fracking is responsible for some of the greatest growth in oil and gas production the United States has ever experienced. Yet, as U.S. energy extraction increases, so have concerns about the safety of fracking, with The New York Times linking the practice to “Scores of earthquakes.” Research shows, however, the risk of earthquakes caused by fracking is minimal and can be fixed with modest siting regulations, bonding requirements, and wastewater recycling. Jillian Melchoir of the Independent Women’s Forum writes that it is essential to understand what the science is actually revealing about energy extraction and induced seismicity and to create balanced public policy that allows safe energy extraction to continue.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News at  http://news.heartland.org/energy-and-environment, The Heartland Institute’s website at http://www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact State Government Relations Manager Logan Pike at lpike@heartland.org or 312/377-4000. 

Article Tags
Energy Environment
Author
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.
TBenson@heartland.org @HeartlandGR