FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Florida Legislature Pushing Fracking Disclosure Bill

by STEVE HORN

Florida may soon become the fourth state with a law on the books enforcing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) chemical disclosure. The Florida House of Representatives’ Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee voted unanimously (11-0) on March 7 to require chemical disclosure from the fracking industry. For many, that is cause for celebration and applause.

Fracking for oil and gas embedded in shale rock basins across the country and world involves the injection of a 99.5-percent cocktail of water and fine-grained sillica sand into a well that drops under the groundwater table 6,000-10,000 feet and then another 6,000-10,000 feet horizontally. The other .5 percent consists of a mixture of chemicals injected into the well, proprietary information and a “trade secret” under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which current President Barack Obama voted “yes” on as a Senator.

That loophole is referred to by many as the “Halliburton Loophole” because Dick Cheney had left his position as CEO of Halliburton – one of the largest oil and gas services corporations in the world – to become Vice President and convene the Energy Task Force. That Task Force consisted of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation and Energy. One of its key actions was opening the floodgates for unfettered fracking nationwide.

Between 2001 and the bill’s passage in 2005, the Task Force held over 300 meetings with oil and gas industry lobbyists and upper-level executives. The result was a slew of give-aways to the industry in this omnibus piece of legislation. On top of the “Halliburton Loophole,” the bill also contains an exemption for fracking from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The federal-level response to closing the “Halliburton Loophole” is the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, a bill that never garnered more than a handful of co-sponsors.

The state-level response, the story goes, is versions of the bill that recently passed onan 11-0 bipartisan basis in a Florida state house subcommittee.

Introduced as the “Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act” on Feb. 13, bill sponsor Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-76) told The Palm Beach Post the day the bill passed in Subcommittee that there is “every indication…at some point in the future” that fracking will proceed in the Sunniland Shale basin and that being “proactive” is the way to go. A senate companion bill was also introduced as SB 1028 by Sen. Jeff Clemons (D-27) and if the bill passes in both chambers, it will be labeled SB 1776.

What Rodrigues didn’t mention: the law was written by what investigative journalist Steve Coll referred to as a “private empire,” ExxonMobil.

Like its federal-level predecessor, it still contains the “trade secrets” loophole. It’s also a model bill distributed both by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), as first revealed by The New York Times in April 2012, and the Council of State Governments (CSG), as first revealed here on DeSmogBlog.

FracFocus Façade: Sunshine State’s Copy-Paste and Disaster-in-the-Make

It’s “Sunshine Week” for open government groups and in the Sunshine State we’ve just witnessed a “copy-paste” job that happened out in broad daylight with no one noticing – until now.

A review of the bill’s verbiage reveals it is essentially a mirror image of ALEC’s “Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act” and CSG’s “Act relating to the disclosure of the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids.”

Most telling is the section of Florida’s bill calling for an “online hydraulic fracturing chemical registry.” That registry, like the Texas model the bill is based off of, would be run by FracFocus. An August investigation by Bloomberg News revealed that FracFocus merely offers the façade of disclosure, or a “fig leaf” of it, as U.S. Rep. Diane DiGette (D-CO), co-sponsor of the FRAC Act put it.

“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year,” wrote Bloomberg. “The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.”

In reality, FracFocus is a public relations front for the oil and gas industry, as we reported here in Dec. 2012, explaining,

FracFocus’ domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation – a front group for Chesapeake Energy.

In short, the bill offers “sunshine” to the public in name only.

“This disclosure bill has a hole big enough to drive a Mack truck through,” Texas Rep. Lon Burnam (D-90) told Bloomberg.

How the Bill Became a “Model”

In May 2011, the Obama Administration Department of Energy (DOE) fracking subcommittee – consisting almost entirely of officials with ties to the oil and gas industry – convened to produce “best practices” for state-level regulations and disclosure standards for fracking.

Out of the subcommittee came the standards written into a Texas bill, HB 3328, passed one month later in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. $1.5 million in FracFocus funding stems from the DOE fracking subcommittee.

A Dec. 2012 Bloomberg probe revealed that the industry utilized the “trade secrets” exemption 19,000 times its first year as law of the land in Texas. For perspective, there are only 6,000 fracking wells in the state at-large.

In Oct. 2011 and Dec. 2011, the Texas bill became a “model bill” both at the CSG and ALEC annual meetings, respectively. ExxonMobil was one of the biggest corporate patrons for CSG’s annual meeting that year, serving as a Gold Level Sponsor.

CSG is a partially corporate-funded and taxpayer-subsidized (via portions of state-level budgets) “trade association” which, like ALEC, passes model legislation often written by and voted upon by corporate lobbyists sitting alongside state-level legislators at its annual meetings. It refers to these bills as “Suggested State Legislation” (SSL). Unlike ALEC, its maintains bipartisan membership.

ALEC is 98 percent funded by corporations, corporate-funded foundations and trade associations. Like CSG, ALEC also passes “model bills” at its annual meetings in similar fashion: behind closed doors, with corporate lobbyists sitting alongside state-level legislators voting “up-down” on proposals. Unlike CSG, it’s predominantly a Republican-centric operation.

The New York Times revealed in an April 2012 investigation that ExxonMobil authored the disclosure standards in the Texas bill that came from the DOE fracking subcommittee. ExxonMobil is the number one producer of shale oil and gas in the United States and a corporation which scored $44.9 billion in profits in 2012, $300 million dollars short of the world record for highest ever annual profit (which Exxon set in 2008).

The model bill has passed in Colorado and Pennsylvania and was proposed but failed in Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Indiana, California, and Arkansas. Section 77 of Illinois’ proposed Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act – as revealed here on DeSmogBlog – also contains the “trade secret” exemption.

Seven of the 15 members of the Florida Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee are ALEC members.

Industry’s Florida Plans Include Fracking the Everglades

A portion of the Sunniland Trend Shale, based in southwestern and southern Florida, overlaps the Everglades National Park. Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a climate change denier, has gone on the record stating fracking in the pristine park is fair game.

Department of Environmental Protection enforcement fell to record-low levels in 2011 in Florida, Scott’s first year in office.

“The total number of enforcement cases fell by more than a fourth (28%) and the DEP Office of General Counsel received the third lowest number of case reports in agency history,” wrote The Bradenton Times. “Pollution penalty assessments dipped by a similar proportion (29%) while penalties actually collected dropped by more than half (57%). The number of big fine cases (more than $100,000) also was cut by half.”

While some speculate as to whether fracking will ever actually happen in Florida, the oil and gas industry has shown it’s serious about developing this shale basin and will host the “Emerging Shale Plays USA” conference in Houston, TX from April 24-25. One of the sessions being led by Brandt Temple, the CEO of Sunrise Exploration & Production is titled, “Mapping The Geological Variance Of The Lower Sunniland To Pinpoint Sweet Spots And Identify Where To Place Wells.”

ALEC’s track-record in the “United States of ALEC” is nothing to sneeze at.

“Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law,” ALEC boasts on its website.

One would be remiss given this track record, then, to write off the threat of fracking in the Florida swamplands.

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog.

More articles by:

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Diana Johnstone
Macron’s Mission: Save the European Union From Itself
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail