Hydraulic Fracturing in Florida, by M.C. Alfieri, Professional Hydrologist, Professional Geologist, CGWP

On December 2, 2015, the Florida House Agriculture and Natural Resource Appropriations Subcommittee vote 9-3 on House Bill (HB) 191 – Regulation of Oil and Gas Resources, which was co-sponsored by Representatives Rodrigues (R-Estero) and Pigman (R-Sebring). A senate version of HB191, Senate Bill (SB) 318, was referred in October to the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Subcommittee. HB191, as summarized by the co-sponsors: (1) preempts regulation of all matters relating to exploration, development, production, processing, storage, and transportation of oil and gas; (2) declares existing ordinances and regulations relating thereto void; (3) provides exception for certain zoning ordinances; (4) revises the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) rulemaking authority; (5) requires permits be obtained before performance of high-pressure well stimulation; (6) deletes provisions requiring Division of Resource Management to get certain approval from municipal governing bodies; (7) requires division to consider additional criteria when issuing permits; (8) authorizes FDEP to issue permits for performance of high-pressure well stimulation; (9) requires FDEP to conduct study; (10) requires applicants and operators to provide surety; (11) increases maximum amount for civil penalties; (12) requires FDEP to designate national chemical registry as state’s registry; (13) requires service providers, vendors, and well owners or operators to report certain information to FDEP; (14) requires FDEP to report certain information to registry; (15) provides that act preempts and supersedes certain regulations and ordinances; and (16) provides appropriation.

Like many states where the leveraging of the natural gas boom in recent years was met with environmental zeal against these efforts, Florida is now at the precipice of three options: (1) leverage a business friendly environment; (2) establish stricter regulations in respect to environmental protection; or (3) a melding of the first two options. There are ten active oil fields in Florida, seven of which are in south Florida and three in the panhandle. In 2014, the Florida cumulative production total for oil was approximately 614,668 million barrels, while natural gas was approximately 728,884 million cubic feet.

HB191 No. 8, above, relates to hydraulic fracturing and is the focus of environmentalists across the U.S. Those who plan to implement the hydraulic fracturing technologies are focused primarily in south Florida, specifically the Everglades, in attempts to produce economic quantities of crude oil (sour). There has been some organized anti-fracking movement in south Florida, but not to the degree of the furor seen in states north of Florida during the recent natural gas boom.

What is main issue regarding “fracking”?

In Florida, there are several valid environmental concerns regarding hydraulic fracturing. Some studies have shown that more than 90 percent of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing may remain underground. Spent fluids that return to the surface, referred to as “flowback”, are typically stored in open pits or tanks at the well site prior to disposal. The pits used for storage of the flowback are typically lined to decrease the potential for interaction with near surface aquifers.

In respect to the actual hydraulic fracturing process, environmental issues of concern specifically include, but are not limited to, process water availability, spills of fluids at the surface, improper well seals, and, in some rare instances, induced seismicity. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) notes that while hydraulic fracturing is the focal point of most of the environmental concerns, the larger overall process of drilling, completing, and producing an oil and gas well tend to be ignored. The environmental issues of concern for the overall process include, but are not limited to: groundwater and surface water quality degradation from improper well seals and/or surface activities; reduced air quality; noise; light pollution; dramatic landscape changes from the oil and gas well process, as well as the mining impacts from proppant processing; and, in some rare instances, induced seismicity from the injection of waste fluids into deep disposal wells. It is very important to note that not all of these environmental issues of concern occur at every site and many impacts can be avoided or mitigated with the proper practices.

As indicated earlier, recent activity for oil and gas has been focused in south Florida, specifically the Everglades. Environmentalist organizations believe the economic benefit of the petroleum industry in this area of the state is significantly outweighed by the overall potential impacts to surface water and groundwater quality, air quality, and pristine wetland and animal habitat, which is home to the endangered Florida Panther.

by M.C. Alfieri, Professional Hydrologist, Professional Geologist, CGWP