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Friday, 04 March 2016 08:59

Fracking Bill Goes Down in State Senate

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Sierra Club's John Scott (in green shirt) and others protesting SB 318 in downtown Fort Myers on the eve of its defeat. Sierra Club's John Scott (in green shirt) and others protesting SB 318 in downtown Fort Myers on the eve of its defeat.

 

On Tuesday, March 1st, opponents of the Fracking Bill that was making its way through the Florida Legislature got a reprieve, scoring a narrow victory when a State Senate Appropriations Committee killed the bill in a 10 to 9 vote. However, there remains a possibility that the victory might be short lived, as rules in the Senate could allow the bill to come up for vote again as soon as next week.

For the moment, though, it is a good thing for numerous municipalities in Lee County that voted one Franking Bans over the past year. SB 318, the Senate’s version of the bill for the Regulation of Oil and Gas Resources that the Florida House passed earlier this year, contained strong language towards preempting home rule on such bans.

Other groups concerned for the health of Florida’s environment were quick to express their approval of Bill failing to pass through committee.

“SB 318 would pave the way for dangerous fracking in our state, putting the drinking water for 90 percent of Floridians and the Everglades in jeopardy,” Jennifer Rubiello, Environment Florida director, said in a news release following the vote. "Yesterday Floridians spoke up for their water, and a bipartisan coalition of senators listened. We hope they’ll continue to stand up against dirty drilling in Florida.”

The day before the bill’s passage, John Scott of the Sierra Club, alongside several residents of Lee County, gathered outside Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto’s office in Downtown Fort Myers to urge her to remain a ‘no’ vote against the bill.

“An overwhelming majority of Floridians I’ve talked to don’t want to see Fracking happen at all,” Scott said. “We’ve been conventially drilling here since the ‘40s, and I know that’s not going to go away, but this new well stimulation technology is so bad because the fracking waste is going to be injected into the boulder zone, which is composed of porous rock. We’ve been told by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency that that waste could eventually leech out into the oceans.”

“If you think our last economic downturn was bad, you should watch how property values crater when you poison the water supply,” Pine Island resident Charles Messina said. “If you’re a fiscal conservative, voting no on this bill is a no brainer.”

State Senator Garrett Richter, the sponsor of the Senate Bill, and State Representative Ray Rodrigues, the sponsor of the companion House Bill, still maintain that these laws were merely meant to regulate fracking in the state of Florida, despite language in the bills that would prevent cities from regulating within their own boundaries.

“When prices go up oil companies will produce more oil in order to meet demand and that’s when we will see fracking again in this state,” Richter said. “Our state is exposed to this activity currently and we need more regulation.”

Following the committee’s decision, Repersentative Rodrigues blamed the bill’s failure of “extreme environmental groups,” mentioning nothing about homegrown discontent aimed toward the bills in Estero and Bonita Springs.

Rodrigues has been actively pushing for this bill for years now, seemingly oblivious to the opposition in his own district, where both Estero and Bonita Springs banned fracking. When he went before that Village’s elected Council at a work session last year to push for the bill, he stated that he had not heard any objections to it from his constituency. However, he promptly left the work session after his presentation and before public comment, where numerous residents stood up before the Council to urge them to pass a ban on fracking.

The State House of Representatives had approved of a similar bill, HB 191, earlier in the year just after the latest Legislative Session started, in a 73 - 45 vote. Seven Republicans crossed over to join the Democrats in voting against that bill.

Trent Townsend

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