A bill making it easier to drill for oil and gas on state lands hit the skids Tuesday as it failed to advance from a key Senate Committee that does not intend to meet again.
Facing multiple questions and concerns from environmental groups, state regulators and the governor’s office, the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee adjourned without taking action on SB 1158, a bill that would help a company seeking oil and gas on state lands including Blackwater River State Forest.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, said there were too many unanswered questions surrounding how the bill would affect the state’s ability to control what happens on environmentally sensitive land.
“Until those issues are clearly settled, I don’t think it’s feasible at this time to go into that type of program, Dean said.
State regulators already have a process to approve such activities on state-owned land. The bill however, would speed up the process by limiting the amount of time state regulators have to complete environmental impact reviews.
Further, the bill and its House companion, HB 695, would grant the company that did the exploration exclusive drilling rights within the permit region.
The bill drew fire from groups like Audubon of Florida, which worried that it could make it easier to drill in the Everglades as well as points farther north where Fairways Exploration and Production is exploring for oil.
Audubon said the company is seeking an agreement that would protect it from spending money to test for oil and then have competitors step in.
“It would have provided exclusivity to the exploration company, which would have kept the market from looking out for the public interest to make sure we’re getting our money’s worth,” said Julie Wraithmell. Audubon’s director of wildlife management.
Dale Patchett, a lobbyist for the company, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
But the bill proved too heavy a lift for sponsor Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker., despite an amendment offered by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, that would have
restrict the bill’s impact on the northwest panhandle. The amendment and the bill were not heard.
“It’s dead until there is an agreement with other parties that have a concern,” Dean said. “We’re not having another meeting but I guess it could be voted out of another committee….It could be, but I doubt it.”
The House bill comes up before the State Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
–Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida