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Estero, Florida hears from Rodrigues on fracking

Estero’s village council on Monday heard Rep. Ray Rodrigues explain his plan to regulate in Florida the oil drilling industry’s use of an extraction method known as “fracking.”

Hydraulic or acid fracturing, better known as fracking, is the process of drilling into the earth and then injecting a high-pressure mixture to force oil out of the ground. The mixture can contain publicly undisclosed chemicals, sand and large volumes of water. Florida’s legislators are considering two fracking companion bills — SB 318 sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and HB 191 sponsored by Rodrigues.

Rodrigues said his bill requires a fracking moratorium until the completion of a $1 million peer-reviewed scientific study on the disputed oil drilling method’s potential impact on Florida’s land and water.

“If we do anything without having the scientific study done, then we are not using all the facts,” he said.

But when it came time for the public to speak, Rodrigues was not in the room.

The state representative spoke for a little more than 16 minutes and participated in roughly 35 minutes of questions from Estero’s village council. The audience gave him light applause. Then, Rodrigues walked away from the podium, out of the meeting and straight through the building’s front door.

He never returned.

Anti-fracking activists and some Estero residents had a problem with Rodrigues’ departure.

“He said in his talk that he hasn’t heard from the people in Estero that fracking is something he should not support, and yet he had an opportunity to listen to his constituents and representatives of his constituents,” said Peter Cangialosi, environmental director for grass-roots nonprofit group Estero Council of Community Leaders.

In a phone interview with the Daily News, Rodrigues said he was bound to a work-related commitment at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he is a full-time budget manager at the College of Arts and Sciences.

In related news, Foes challenge proposed fracking in national forest in Ohio.

He fulfilled the scope of the village council’s invitation by explaining his bill and taking questions, Rodrigues said.

“It was not going to be a public debate,” Rodrigues said.

He recommended that his constituents — Lee County residents — call his office and set up appointments to discuss the bill with him.

Estero carved out time to listen to Rodrigues, delaying until December a vote on a village-wide fracking ban. Village Attorney Burt Saunders said Estero had no advance notice of Rodrigues’ need to leave early.

In October, Estero’s village council heard from fracking opponents. Monday, Rodrigues shared the finer points of his legislation. Among the provisions in Richter’s and Rodrigues’ identical state bills are an increase of the maximum civil penalty against oil drilling industry “bad actors” — from $10,000 a day to $25,000 a day; a requirement that Florida Department of Environmental Protection partner with FracFocus.org to maintain a chemical disclosure registry; rules that would force drillers who use fracking to get a permit first and submit certain information to the state.

The legislators plan to exempt chemicals labeled as “trade secrets” from being public record, but have said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would have full access to the information. Richter and Rodrigues also have language in their bills that would pre-empt local fracking ordinances not in existence before Jan. 1, 2015.

Last summer, the city of Bonita Springs passed a ban on fracking in its municipal boundaries. Rodrigues said Bonita Springs would have a hard time enforcing its new law if challenged in court because the state has the authority to regulate the oil and gas industry. That avoids creating a patchwork of rules, he said.

“It is my job as a state legislator to look through a larger prism,” Rodrigues said.

The Florida League of Cities, which lobbies for municipalities, is reviewing the bill and drafting suggestions that could be adopted to soften pre-emption language, Rodrigues said.

Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said local governments can use zoning powers to push out land uses that do not fit, such as fracking and mining.

“It is appropriate for you to restrict or prohibit well stimulation treatments,” Hecker said. “We don’t think your authority should be reduced at all.”

A draft of the village’s fracking ban obtained by the Daily News shows Estero would argue that “well stimulation or acid fracturing” oil exploration is incompatible with Estero’s comprehensive land use plan, public health, safety and the community’s welfare.

Estero’s council is expected to hold its first fracking ordinance vote Dec. 2 and a final vote Dec. 16.

In related news, Oil industry, hoping to drill in the Gulf, says it would enrich Florida.

This article was written by Maryann Batlle from Naples Daily News, Fla. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.