From News Service of Florida/News-Press

The Senate sponsor of a controversial bill about the regulation of “fracking” in Florida withdrew it from consideration Tuesday, saying he didn’t have the votes to get through a key committee.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, told members of theSenate Appropriations Committee that the opposition of environmentalists played a key role in thwarting the measure (SB 318). “Emotions tend to magnify the controversy,” he said.

The bill would have set up a state permitting process for fracking, a method of drilling that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations, allowing natural gas and oil to be released. The measure was fiercely opposed by environmental groups, who say the chemicals used in fracking could contaminate Florida’s aquifer, and thus its water supply.

Richter’s proposal was backed by the Florida Petroleum Council, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which said the state needed a regulatory framework for fracking. Without the bill, Richter warned, fracking in Florida is regulated only by market forces and the current $30-per-barrel oil price, which is certain to rise.

“(The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) is flooding the market, and they’re doing so intentionally,” he said. “When OPEC stops flooding the market, supply will drop, demand will still be there, and prices will go up. … And that’s when we’ll see fracking again in this state.”

The House voted 73-45 last month to approve its version of the fracking legislation (HB 191), sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 10-9 against Richter’s measure, but a procedural move gave Richter more time to build support — to no avail. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R- Fort Myers, then moved to reconsider the bill, a procedural move that kept it alive.

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