A closer look at DeSantis' record on fracking: Florida voters banned it as he took office

Presidential rival Nikki Haley had accused him of outlawing the process himself.

September 28, 2023, 6:21 PM

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Republican primary debate on Wednesday night of banning hydraulic fracking in his state -- a misleading claim the governor, who has advocated for more domestic oil production as he runs for president, firmly denied.

"Our voters enacted a constitutional amendment that doesn't allow" offshore drilling, DeSantis explained, before Haley cut him off.

"You banned it before they voted," she said.

"She's totally wrong," he countered.

While DeSantis did campaign against fracking while he was running for governor, a position shared by other Republicans at the time, the ban wasn't authorized by him. Once in office, he also signed an executive order to "adamantly oppose" the process and other offshore drilling.

As a presidential candidate, he has said fracking would be appropriate elsewhere in the country.

Fracking is "is the process of injecting water, sand, and/or chemicals into a well to break up underground bedrock to free up oil or gas reserves," according to the U.S. Geological Survey

The process has drawn sharp criticism from environmental advocates and researchers, who argue fracking may impact water quality and emit air pollutants by releasing toxic chemicals.

Florida voters approved a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution on Nov. 6, 2018 -- the same day DeSantis was first elected governor -- which stated that in order to "protect the people of Florida and their environment, drilling for exploration or extraction of oil or natural gas is prohibited on lands beneath all state waters which have not been alienated [transferred to other parties]."

On the campaign trail that summer, before the vote on the ballot measure, DeSantis expressed support for banning fracking, as did his primary opponent, then-state Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam.

After DeSantis' election victory, the website for the then-governor-elect included a pledge to "work to ban fracking in the state of Florida," according to a Nov. 25, 2018, screenshot of the website.

PHOTO: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Permian Deep Rock Oil Company site during a campaign event on Sept. 20, 2023 in Midland, Texas.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Permian Deep Rock Oil Company site during a campaign event on Sept. 20, 2023 in Midland, Texas. Gov. DeSantis unveiled future plans on energy policy, climate change ideology and gas production if he is elected president in 2024.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

"With Florida's geological makeup of limestone and shallow water sources, fracking presents a danger to our state that is not acceptable. On day one, Ron DeSantis will advocate to the Florida Legislature to pass legislation that bans fracking in the state," the site read at the time.

However, the ballot measure rendered any such future laws moot.

Two days after he was sworn into office in January 2019, DeSantis signed an executive order which, among other things, directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to "take necessary actions to adamantly oppose all off-shore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida."

As he campaigns for the national office of president, DeSantis has said he supports fracking in general but that the ban in Florida reflects state-level concerns.

Asked in July for his thoughts on offshore drilling, the governor told reporters he would "honor" Florida's constitutional amendment but said offshore drilling in other states "will continue."

"That is not saying that I think that should apply to Louisiana or Texas and all that, so that will continue, and we want them to be able to do it, and we want them to be able to use hydraulic fracturing. It's been something that has been very effective and it has really taken our country to be the world's leading energy producer," he said.

"But clearly in states like Florida, because we're a coastal state, we've had oil spills," he said. "We've put that in the constitution -- our voters did -- and that's something as governor that I've followed and respected."

In a statement on Thursday, DeSantis' press secretary Bryan Griffin said, in part: "When he took office, the governor committed to protecting the Everglades while accelerating energy exploration and production across the state. Furthermore, an overwhelming number of Floridians voted to enact a constitutional amendment to limit offshore drilling prior to Governor DeSantis taking office. ... DeSantis is the only candidate in this race to roll out an energy plan that he will enact as our next president to once again make America energy dominant."

Speaking with ABC News, Haley's campaign clarified that she was attempting to point out that DeSantis, as a candidate for governor, opposed drilling and fracking before Floridians voted on any kind of ballot initiative.

ABC News' Nicholas Kerr contributed to this report.