Legislative Wrap Up
By Rob Moher | Conservancy of Southwest Florida President & CEO
At the start of the 2019 Florida Legislative Session, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida was optimistic that progress would be made on issues fundamental to the protection of our natural resources, quality of life and economic sustainability. This optimism in large part was as a result of a public outcry to the devastating water quality issues that faced our region and the election of a new Governor who made as a priority from his first day in office addressing these environmental issues.
Sixty days later, at the end of Session, we are reeling from the reality of detrimental legislation that set the State even further back in our efforts to safeguard and protect Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. The Governor has continued to lead with bold and decisive leadership on water related issues which likely compelled the Legislature to approve record funding for Everglades Restoration, which the Conservancy strongly supports. However, the Florida Legislature has chosen a very different path negatively impacting Florida’s environment by adopting a series of detrimental bills related to growth management and conservation.
Regarding our top two legislative priorities — a ban on all forms of advanced well stimulation and appropriate funding for Florida Forever — we have actually lost ground. Here are the details that you need to know about these two important issues.
Ban on Fracking and Fracking-Like Treatments
Unfortunately, our legislators have once again failed to pass a comprehensive bill that would effectively ban risky fracking and fracking-like treatments used on oil wells. It is now up to Governor DeSantis and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that all fracking-like operations — which pose a threat to our water resources and human health — are addressed.
If you’ve been following the debate on fracking in Florida, you’ve probably heard the term, “matrix acidizing.” It’s caused quite a bit of confusion, so the Conservancy would like to set the record straight.
When the environmental community talks about matrix acidizing, we’re talking about a technique very similar to fracking where acid is used to dissolve Florida’s underground rock formations and increase the flow of oil to a well. We’re talking about a technique designed to alter the geology around the well that may create wormholes up to 20 feet from an oil well. This practice uses similar toxic chemicals as fracking operations and presents many of the same issues as fracking from wasting water to contributing to climate change to threatening water quality.
The time to ban these practices is now. Although used in the past, the agencies admit that neither fracturing nor matrix acidizing is currently used in Florida. However, companies are on the hunt for oil reserves, as evidenced by the destruction of the Big Cypress National Preserve where Burnett Oil has searched tens of thousands of acres, created hundreds of miles of ruts, and cut down over 400 ancient cypress trees.
Sadly, comprehensive bills, such as those proposed by Senator Montford, Senator Stewart, and Representative Fitzenhagen of Fort Myers, did not receive the level of attention as bills that would have allowed continued use of matrix acidizing by Senator Albritton and Representative Raschein.
A reasonable cost-benefit analysis shows that it’s good public policy to ban both fracking and matrix acidizing in the state of Florida. According to retired oil executive, John Hall, the value of the additional oil produced with matrix acidizing would be insignificant. This is because Florida only has 1/10th of 1% of national oil reserves; not enough to affect the price of gas or secure our national security, and these reserves can still be accessed via conventional drilling practices. Furthermore, the oil found in south Florida is a heavy crude and high in sulfur. That means that for this oil to be refined and used as gasoline, it needs to be transported hundreds of miles away. After January 1, 2020, the fuel burned at sea to transport this oil to a refinery will have to be less than 0.5% sulfur as compared to 2.5% today. This new rule will markedly increase the cost of transporting Sunniland crude. Moreover, due to national policy changes, there will be less use for this poor quality oil, even as bunker fuel by 2020.
Floridians want to see our natural resources protected from risky oil activities, as evidenced by the success of Amendment 9 that prohibits offshore drilling within state waters, as well as the over 90 municipalities that have passed a resolution or ordinance asking for fracking and matrix acidizing to be banned by the state of Florida.
Governor DeSantis made a campaign promise to advocate for a ban on fracking in Florida because of our “geological makeup of limestone and shallow water resources” which makes hydraulic fracturing a “danger to our state that is not acceptable.” However, the same holds true for the use of matrix acidizing.
We ask Governor DeSantis to specifically include matrix acidizing among the activities he would like to see banned in the state of Florida. We stand ready, willing and able to meet with Florida DEP staff to share information in support of this more comprehensive ban.
This year, the Florida Legislature once again significantly underfunded the Florida Forever land acquisition program; prioritizing new toll roads and suburban sprawl over clean water and healthy ecosystems.
As Florida grows, the Conservancy is dedicated to preserving Southwest Florida’s striking natural beauty, diverse wildlife, water resources, and quality of life for future generations. A critical component of this mission is protecting environmentally sensitive lands from being converted to inappropriate land uses through the Florida Forever land acquisition program.
This Session, the Conservancy advocated for legislation dedicating 40% of 2014’s Amendment One proceeds to the Florida Forever Trust Fund and for the corresponding $300 million allocation to the Trust Fund in the 2019–2020 budget.
Despite well-documented science on the importance of saving land to protect water and the immense needs of Florida’s land conservation programs, the Legislature did not pass land conservation legislation dedicating funds but instead allocated only $33 million this year for the Florida Forever Priority List. This is a discouraging step back from last year’s $100 million appropriation for land conservation, which we had hoped to build upon this year, and which Governor DeSantis’ budget request mirrored.
The unfortunate consequences of underfunding land conservation programs are exacerbated by the passage of SB 7068, which proposes the construction of 3 toll roads through the heart of critical natural and rural lands in Florida. The bill, if signed by Governor DeSantis, will encourage sprawl and significantly increase development pressure on these lands which are already being converted to development at the rate of 10 acres an hour. A total of $45 million was allocated to this road building effort — $12 million more than what was provided for land conservation.
There are competing visions for Florida’s future. One vision, shared by the majority of Floridians, maintains the viability of our waters for fishing and recreation, allows native wildlife to share our state from Florida Bay to Apalachicola, and ensures that interacting with nature remains part of life in Florida. The other gives away Florida’s natural treasures in exchange for an endless sea of sprawling suburbs, strip malls, and toll roads. The budget is the clearest indicator of the Legislature’s priorities, and unfortunately, it seems they’re driving the State toward the latter vision.
The Conservancy will work with partners, legislators, and the Department of Environmental Protection over the summer in an effort to shift the Legislature’s current trajectory before next session. However, we will not be successful without your help.
We appreciate your continued support of our work. We will continue to fight on your behalf to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.
President and CEO
Conservancy of Southwest Florida