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2016 Legislative Food Fights: Amid debate over fracking, local control could drive discussion

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Bills aimed at hydraulic fracturing have been filed every year since 2013, but the 2016 Legislative Session may be the year to watch when it comes to the controversial drilling technique.

Several measures, including one aimed at regulation and three focused on bans — have been filed in advance of the Session. Some state lawmakers have said they wouldn’t support a regulatory bill that trumps local control. Others have said it’s unlikely a ban would pass the Republican-led Legislature.

Rep. Ray Rodrigues has filed legislation, HB 191, that requires drillers to get a permit before they can begin high-pressure well stimulation. The bill also calls for a study, which would be subject to a peer review, to look at the potential risk fracking has on Florida. Rodrigues has said there would be a moratorium on high-pressure well stimulation techniques until the study and rule-making are complete.

The measure also has strong preemption language that prohibits local governments from having an ordinance on the books to regulate oil and gas exploration. Zoning laws in place before Jan. 1, 2015, would still be valid.

That means local laws across the state could be voided if the measure passes, including ordinances in communities represented by Rodrigues and Naples Republican Sen. Garrett Richter, who has proposed similar legislation, SB 318, in the Senate.

Both the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities oppose legislation that would preempt local rule. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has also expressed concerns about the preemption language, saying in a policy paper that “it is critical local governments retain home rule authority.”

Rodrigues has filed legislation aimed at hydraulic fracturing every year since taking office in 2013. The Estero Republican 2013 and 2014 proposals to create a chemical disclosure registry were met with criticism because of a companion bill that allowed oil and gas industry trade secrets to be exempt from the state’s trade secrets law.

Rodrigues beefed up the legislation in 2015, creating a measure that increased penalties, created a chemical disclosure registry, and required drillers to get permits before they start hydraulic fracturing.

The 2015 House proposal — along with a Senate companion filed by Richter — came after a Collier County oil well was fracked. Despite calls from some local lawmakers in Southwest Florida to get a law on the books, the proposal fell victim to the early end of the 2015 legislative session.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida doesn’t just have concerns with the pre-emption language. The organization also says the measure fails to immediately suspend and study all well stimulation, including acid stimulation, the method used in Collier County; require higher bonds and liability insurance for all drilling operations, and guarantee the disclosure of chemicals to health workers.

The Florida AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club Florida, and the Florida League of Women Voters have opposed the measure. The Florida Petroleum Council and Associated Industries of Florida support the legislation.

Regulatory bills aren’t the only measures targeting fracking this session; Two sets of proposals have been filed to ban the technique completely.

Democrats Rep. Evan Jenne and Sen. Darren Soto have filed proposals, HB 19 and SB 166 that would ban well stimulation for exploration or treatments of oil. Those proposals would cover all types of techniques, including acid fracturing and acid matrix stimulation.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez has filed a measure, HJR 453, to amend the state Constitution to ban well stimulation; while Sen. Eleanor Sobel, has sponsored a resolution, SR 688, supporting a ban.

None of those proposals have been scheduled for a hearing.

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