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Senate panel won’t reconsider controversial fracking proposal

A bill to regulate fracking is likely dead after the Senate sponsor said he did not want the Senate Appropriations committee to reconsider the measure.

The Senate Appropriations committee on Thursday voted to reject the proposal (SB 318), but lawmakers swiftly made a motion to reconsider the measure. That move kept the bill on the agenda, where it was set to get a hearing Tuesday.

Instead, Sen. Garrett Richter made a motion not to reconsider the bill.

“This is a controversial subject. The controversy will continue, and I daresay it will draw even more concerns,” said Richter. “I can pretty much assure you demand (for oil and gas) is not going to go away, but Senate Bill 318 is going away.”

Among other things, the proposal required drillers to get a permit before they can begin fracking; called on the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study on the impacts of fracking; and increased penalties from $10,000 a day, per violation to $25,000 a day, per violation.

The bill prohibited local governments from putting local bans in place; but allowed local governments to adopt and enforce zoning and land use requirements, so long as those conditions didn’t prohibit the act. The bill also called for a moratorium on fracking until the Department of Environmental Protection completed a $1 million study and rules were adopted.

Richter said he hoped his bill would have created “better regulatory guidelines.” Richter said he appreciated the support of groups who advocated for the bill, and criticized some of the most outspoken opponents of the measure.

“This bill is a well-intended piece of legislation,” said Richter. “I had hoped to give our regulators more statutory tools to do their jobs. I wanted to see stronger and more effective laws.”

The bill was amended last week in an attempt to broaden the definition of fracking, a move some lawmakers hoped would help get some of their colleagues and opponents on board.

“This is a matter I hope can be reconsidered at some point in time and fully addressed,” said Sen. David Simmons.

Bills aimed at fracking have been filed every year since 2013. While early bills dealt solely with disclosure, Richter and Rep. Ray Rodrigues in 2015 filed proposals that would have regulated the practice. That 2015 cleared the House, but failed in the Senate when the 2015 legislative session ended early.

Both Richter and Rodrigues refiled the legislation this year. In January, the House voted 73-45 to approve Rodrigues’ bill.

Despite calls from fracking opponents for an outright ban, House and Senate proposals supporting a ban did not receive a hearing this session.

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