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Friday, 03 July 2015 09:55

Bonita Moves Forward on Fracking Ban, Lawsuit Threatened

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Attorney Ron Weaver attempts to dissuade the Bonita Council from moving forward with fracking ban hearings. Attorney Ron Weaver attempts to dissuade the Bonita Council from moving forward with fracking ban hearings.

Despite threats of lawsuits from some of the deepest pockets in southwest Florida the Bonita Springs city council voted unanimously July 1 to consider a fracking ban inside the city.

The council could vote July 15 to ban oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing. The proposal has the undivided attention of Collier Resources, the mineral and gas arm of Barron Collier Companies and Collier Enterprises, the Naples-based business Forbes estimates makes the Collier family worth $2.3 billion.

Collier Resources owns the mineral rights on thousands of acres in Bonita Springs, attorney Ron Weaver told the council, and they have every intention of exercising them. There’s tens of billions of dollars worth of oil deep under the city, Weaver said.

Weaver said the city is jumping the gun, with federal and state governments still wrestling with fracking science and regulations.

In a June 25 letter Weaver warned the city that its “rush to judgement” would make it a lightning rod for expensive lawsuits.

“This constitutionally flawed ordinance will unnecessarily launch the city of Bonita Springs to the forefront of a complex science, regulatory and policy debate,” Weaver said. “(It) will expose the city to numerous lawsuits and class actions, from Collier Resources and others, all of which likely will be rendered moot by imminent federal and state actions.”

But Ralf Brookes, an attorney for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida who helped draft the ban, said not to hope for federal or state intervention.

“The federal government and the state government will not protect you,” he said.

The city can use its home rule zoning authority to prohibit fracking, Brookes said, and the ban would more likely survive state or federal action if it’s in place first.

“Ban this while you can,” he said. “Get this on the books now.”

Brookes pointed out the city has never received a well application from Collier Resources or anyone else, so the company has not looked to exercise its rights, but that its current protest shows it intends to.

Every state effort to ban or regulate fracking failed this year, as the House’s abrupt adjournment left them unpassed.

The Conservancy was involved in the 1 1/2 –year effort of the city’s Water Strategy Task Force, whose recommendations, adopted by the council, included consideration of a fracking ban

Jennifer Hecker of the Conservancy said not knowing what the state might do makes it more important for the city to act.

“This is a real risk,” she said. “Contamination has occurred. It’s been documented.”

Hecker described fracking as a “risky and unproven” technology that Florida’s outdated laws do not address.

“Right now all they need is a permit to drill,” she said.

In fact drilling companies must notify the state before fracking or other well stimulation techniques are employed, but the state has no ability to stop it.

Weaver said the oil the Colliers believe lies beneath Bonita is more than 10,000 feet down, two miles and seven confining layers beneath the shallow drinking water aquifer.

Weaver cited numerous actions the Colliers might take. He said the ban could be seen as an illegal “taking” by the city of the value of the oil, that the ordinance would violate state law by forcing a “waste” of energy resources and that the lack of a formal notice to the Colliers violated their rights.

Mayor Ben Nelson said that city governments can and have prohibited specific uses before through zoning.

“Zoning regulation is kind of what we do,” he said.

The vote to hold the second hearing on the proposal, actually an amendment to the city land development code, was unanimous.

Bonita would become the second Florida municipality to ban fracking. Coconut Creek passed a ban in February, though Weaver said the value of oil and gas rights under that city, located in Broward County, are likely negligible.

The council could adopt the ban on July 15.

Read 1569 times Last modified on Sunday, 31 January 2016 11:32

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