On Sept. 17, the League of Women Voters of Florida held a town hall on fracking
. The event, which featured speakers from both pro- and anti-fracking factions, was well-attended by people concerned about the idea that utility companies are eyeing our state as fracking's new frontier.
What better time, then, for two state legislators to quietly file pro-fracking bills, while so many activists were occupied?
On Sept. 17, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, introduced SB 318 (aka, "Regulation of Oil and Gas Resources"). The bill summary is completely blunt about what it's proposing: "Preempting the regulation of all matters relating to the exploration, development, production, processing, storage, and transportation of oil and gas." Not only that, if a municipality has already decided that it does not wish to allow fracking within its jurisdiction, this bill would declare "existing ordinances and regulations relating thereto void." The bill would provide an exception for certain zoning ordinances (it doesn't say which
zoning ordinances, but we like to think that it would at least respect your right to not have fracking companies set up shop in your residentially zoned backyard) but only if those ordinances were in place before Jan. 1, 2015. Interestingly, the bill doesn't contain the word fracking anywhere in its text – nor does it contain the words "hydraulic fracturing." Instead, it refers to fracking as the very innocuous-sounding practice of "high-pressure well stimulation."
Read the complete text of that bill here.
Meanwhile, over in the House, Rep. Ray Wesley Rodriques, R-Fort Myers, filed a bill the same day that would do essentially the same thing as SB 318. Rodrigues' bill, HB 191, declares that it's the state's job to regulate all things relating 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. A county or municipality may, however, enforce an existing zoning ordinance adopted before January 1, 2015, if the ordinance is otherwise valid."
You can read the text of that bill here.
Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, is one of the legislators leading the charge against fracking – he's put forward a bill for the 2016 session that would ban fracking in the state
completely: "We have a very unique geology here," he says, 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 predicts that these pro-fracking bills will likely "sail through the House," but that there will be a battle in the Senate. Soto says that if people do care about how fracking could impact the state, or about the state's attempt to pre-empt home rule, they should contact their legislators. "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."
If these bills pass, he says, "there would be no sanctuary against this in any county in the state. … it's concerning, to say the least."
Something similar happened recently in Texas. The small city of Denton, Texas banned fracking within its borders in late 2014. Less than six months later, the state of Texas signed a bill into law that banned any bans on fracking,
nullifying Denton's law. A story in the Dallas Morning News
pointed out that "numerous studies" have tied fracking to earthquakes, and here has been a marked increase in seismic activity in the Dallas area recently. On Sept. 21, an earthquake that measured 2.6 M on the Richter scale shook the city. The San Antonio Current
says it was the "more powerful than any of the other multiple earthquakes that hit the area this year."
Although the U.S. Geological Survey has said that the cause of recent quakes in Dallas is not clear, a study released in May
by Southern Methodist University concluded that stresses caused by "oil and gas activity" in the area are likely contributors.