Naples Daily News

March 30, 2017

 

Florida legislators' stalemate on study kills fracking ban bill

By Arek Sarkissian

 

http://www.naplesnews.com/story/news/politics/2017/03/30/legislative-stalemate-kills-fracking-ban-florida/99825242/

 

TALLAHASSEE - A bill that would ban fracking in Florida is dead this year, with the state House and Senate unwilling to agree on whether a scientific study is needed before considering an all-out prohibition.

House bill sponsor Rep. Mike Miller, R-Orlando, said he still thinks the state should have some sort of a fracking ban, but the study would ward off lawsuits brought by property owners who feel their rights have been violated. He said House leadership would not let his bill move forward without the study.

"I think there's a leadership situation where we have concerns about property rights issues and things the Senate sponsor may not agree with," Miller said.

There is no chance the bill could be revived this session, he said.

"You never say never, but now we're saying it looks like that will be next year," Miller said.

Sen. Dana Young, the Tampa Republican who sponsored the Senate version, said the state's delicate geology and its reliance on massive aquifers for drinking water call for a complete prohibition.

"There's just no place for it here," Young said.

Related:Florida fracking foes rally at Capitol, but proposed ban splits Legislature

But House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues thinks the study would justify why property owners could not file a claim under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act.

"One way to get around a Bert Harris claim is you put in an appropriation to buy the land or you demonstrate that overriding need that trumps the property right," Rodrigues said. "The only way you can show that overriding need is the study."

Young said she had vetted the bill and determined the rights of property owners would not be violated.

“The bill doesn’t stop property owners from accessing those minerals; it just forecloses one method of doing so,” Young said. “Property rights are not impacted at all.”

Advocates for the fracking ban said they think there still is hope for the bill.

"We are going to keep trying everything we have," said Rob Moher, president of the Naples-based Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

The bill to ban fracking was a change from the approach lawmakers took during last year's session, which was to propose regulations from the study Rodrigues requested.

A stumbling block for Rodrigues' bill was it would have overturned a long list of fracking bans that were passed by county and municipal governments in the state.

Opponents of the bill saw it as an open door for the oil industry to begin fracking in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Everglades.

Related:Florida Senate committee advances bill to ban fracking for oil and gas

Rodrigues said his bill was not meant to regulate fracking.

"The bill that I want is a bill that determines if fracking is safe in Florida," he said. "Once we have that determination, we make a decision to proceed and regulate, or proceed and ban.

"But you can't do anything without the information."

Related:Statewide fracking ban picks up GOP support

Proposals to regulate fracking began after an oil driller initially refused to cease operations in eastern Collier County in December 2013 despite demands from the state. The Dan A. Hughes Co., based in Texas, eventually stopped, but the incident raised concerns.

The Hughes Co. faces a $1 million state fine through a complaint process that is ongoing.

Young's bill received support from Senate leaders such as Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who had said the backlash from last year's bill led him to think a ban is necessary.

Young, as the former House majority leader, threw her support behind Rodrigues' bill last year, but she said subsequent research changed her mind.