In mid-September, two Southwest Florida legislators introduced two bills into the state House and Senate that could have serious consequences for local governments seeking to ban fracking in their municipalities – something that has Fort Myers Beach Vice-Mayor Dan Andre seeing red.
On Sept. 17, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, introduced SB 318 (“Regulation of Oil and Gas Resources”) and Representative Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, filed HB 191. Both bills say it’s the state’s job to regulate all things related to the oil and gas industry, “to the exclusion of all existing and future ordinances or regulations relating thereto adopted by any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state. Any such existing ordinance or regulation is void” – going back to January 1, 2015. They also create a regulatory framework for fracking, require rules to be adopted before permits are issued, require a study on fracking and provide for disclosure of chemicals used in fracking with the exception of those considered to be ‘trade secrets’.
On November 7th, Rodrigues’ HB 191, made it out of sub-committee after being approved 9 to 4 by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.
Last week, on November 13th, the newly incorporated Village of Estero decided to postpone a vote on its first anti-fracking ordinance until Rodrigues could speak to the council on November 23rd.
The fracking legislation is not new. In 2013 and 2014, Rodrigues introduced bills that would require drillers to list the chemicals they are using with a national registry, but allowed for exemptions from public disclosure for trade secrets. He tried again earlier this year, with HB 1205 and 1209, both of which died on the House floor in May.
It was those bills that prompted Andre to write a Guest Opinion in April of this year in which he stated those bills don’t go far enough to regulate fracking and leave out any mention of the process of acidulation – which uses diluted acid to dissolve limestone and carbonate formations in order to extract natural gas.
“They basically made it okay for someone to drill a hole into the ground and pour acid into it,” he said. “As porous as Florida limestone can be, let’s not allow the possibility of potential carcinogens in the groundwater.”
Andre is pushing to ban fracking altogether, and he’s far from alone. Shortly after he wrote that opinion piece, he was contacted by Brian Lee, Director of Research and Policy of ReThink Energy Florida, who urged him to join other municipalities in passing fracking bans as part of a state-wide effort.
“Our organization is part of a larger coalition that is working towards a fracking ban,” he wrote to Andre on May 11th. “One of the tactics that we are using to build political momentum is to encourage municipal governments to pass resolutions asking for a statewide fracking ban. Resolutions of this nature have been passed in Alachua County, Coconut Creek, Hallandale Beach, Hamilton County, Leon County, Madison County, Miami-Dade County, St. Augustine, St. Lucie County, Tallahassee, and Union County.”
Andre took the matter to our Town Council, and they passed a resolution against fracking on August 3rd.
Now, in light of the new bills, Andre is more determined than ever to organize a grass roots opposition to a practice he believes will drastically endanger Florida’s environment and aquifers.
“Governor Andrew Como of New York banned fracking after a report by the state Department of Health cited health and environmental concerns caused by fracking,” he said. “So why are our legislators even considering it?”
At least one Florida legislator agrees with him. Senator Darren Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, who introduced Senate Bill 166 in August. This bill, which was co-filed by Senator Dwight Bullard, a Democrat from Cutler Bay would ban fracking entirely. A similar bill was filed in the House by Reps. Evan Jenne, of Dania Beach and Lori Berman of Lantana. Another Senator, Jeremy Ring, D-Parkland has suggested asking the voters to ban fracking via a constitutional amendment.
“We have a very unique geology here,” he said, pointing out that the fragile limestone bed beneath our soil would not be able to withstand the practice of shooting chemicals into it at high pressure. “Our geology does not allow for fracking to be done safely.”
Soto took up the fight against fracking in 2013, when a Texas company proceeded with work on a well in Collier County despite being asked by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to wait for them to investigate the process. This led the state to fine them $25,000 and serve the company with a cease-and-desist order. At that time, Soto began actively campaigning against fracking and urging local governments to enact their own laws banning the practice.
“We need all the help we can get from Floridians across the state,” he says. “We’d love support for the ban. Other states have done it. New York did it last year, so it’s not like it can’t happen here.”
In defense of his and Rodrigues’ bills, Senator Richter told Collier County voters in October that he doesn’t believe a state-wide ban has any chance of passing, and that SB 318 and HB 191 are designed to govern and control the fracking industry on the state level.
“This legislation offers the first statewide regulations governing fracking, and it would also ban fracking until the state conducts it’s own study,” he said.
Keri Hendry Weeg