TAMPA — Following a controversy during her campaign, newly elected state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, says she'll introduce a bill in the coming legislative session to ban the practice of fracking statewide.
Young told a gathering of political leaders in Orlando last week the bill will be one of her top priorities in the 2017 session.
She was criticized by environmental groups during her campaign for supporting previous bills on fracking regulation that didn't include a permanent ban.
One of those groups, Florida Conservation Voters, which endorsed her Democratic opponent, issued a news release praising Young's pledge to pursue "a true statewide fracking ban."
"Our quality of life and economy depend on a healthy environment — especially in the Tampa Bay area," Florida Conservation Voters executive director Aliki Moncrief said in a statement. "I'm glad that Senator Young recognizes that there is no place for fracking anywhere in Florida. Our drinking water and Florida's remarkable rivers, springs, and natural areas are too precious to risk."
The previous bills would have required a study of possible effects of the oil and gas-drilling technique on Florida's aquifer. The 2016 bill also imposed a moratorium on fracking until the Legislature could consider the results of the study.
Democrats and environmental groups opposed both bills, calling instead for a ban. Both bills passed in the House where Young was majority leader, but died in the Senate.
Young defeated Democrat Bob Buesing in the Nov. 8 election for Tampa's Senate District 18 seat and is now a freshman senator.
In an interview, she reiterated she has always considered fracking too dangerous to allow in Florida, but said she has reconsidered legal arguments she formerly cited against a ban.
Young previously argued that if the state imposed a ban without scientific data from a study to show the potential harm, it could be vulnerable to lawsuits from property owners saying the state had unconstitutionally taken their property rights.
"As I've given this a lot more thought, it occurred to me that if the state were to ban fracking, it wouldn't be banning the property owners from accessing their mineral rights, it would only ban them from using that method," she said.
Fracking is a technique that injects water, often mixed with toxic chemicals, into an oil or gas well at pressures high enough to fracture rock formations and release the fuel they contain. That's unsuitable, many say, for a state that gets much of its drinking water from an aquifer contained in underground rock formations.
"I have met with committee staff, and I am putting together a bill that will likely be my first bill filed, a statewide ban," Young said. "It's going to be very clear and straightforward."
Young said it will also include a study of the potential dangers.
Environmentalists criticized the previous bills because they also prohibited local governments from enacting their own regulations on fracking.
But Young said that was to forestall some counties that would be willing to allow fracking to get the revenue it would produce, and her bill will include a similar pre-emption.
"The aquifer does not know where county lines stop and start," she said. "We have to protect the entire state."
Young denied that her views on fracking have changed, saying she has simply seen different nuances in how to control it.
"I always learn and I'm always open to new ideas," she said.
But she also acknowledged that getting the bill passed, especially in the more conservative House, "will be a heavy lift for a freshman senator."
Because of new members elected Nov. 8, the Senate is also more conservative than before.
Young said she has no indications whether Senate or House leaders will back her bill — the most important criteria for any bill in the Legislature — but that several House members have offered to sponsor a companion House bill.