Battleground Florida: Anti-fracking Bills takes Aim on Mostly Non-existent Industry

Posted in: Crisis Response, Fracking, United States Water News, Water Contamination
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SHUT IT DOWN: Protesters at The People’s Climate March held in New York City in Sept. After achieving a statewide fracking ban, activists are making a play in Florida. Photo credit: Bruce Parker

Article courtesy of William Patrick | January 9, 2015 | Watchdog.org | Shared as educational material

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Fresh off a statewide fracking ban in New York, environmental activists are taking the fight to Florida.

Never mind that fracking hardly exists in the Sunshine State, at least compared to the North and Midwest.

The message is clear: Shut it down.

“Follow New York’s lead and ban fracking in Florida!” says an online petition by the national activist group Food and Water Watch. The petition includes a pre-written email template designed for Florida legislators.

Several Democratic state lawmakers are on board.

This week, state Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, introduced legislation to ban oil and natural gas well “stimulation.”

In December, Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, filed a bill prohibiting any “person from engaging in hydraulic fracturing in this state.”

Hydraulic fracturing is a drilling technique used to extract oil and natural gas by using pressurized water mixtures to fracture underground rock. Critics say it’s unsafe, environmentally hazardous and endangers water supplies.

Fracking is also at the forefront of America’s so-called energy revolution, which in recent years has dramatically improved the country’s energy outlook while creating jobs and large-scale economic benefits.

The Florida measures have gained national attention, even though state Democrats have slim to no chance of passing major agenda items in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

But that may be irrelevant.

“Scoring political points is effective,” said Kevin Doyle, state director for the pro-fracking Consumer Energy Alliance.

Florida remains the largest electoral swing state in presidential elections, and environmental issues will be critically important for Democrats in 2016 — not just to energize voters but for cash, too.

Ahead of the November mid-terms, California billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer showered the Sunshine State in political spending. His effort to unseat incumbent Gov. Rick Scott may have failed, but Steyer’s super PAC, NextGen Climate Action Committee, maintains a Florida presence and has millions in the bank, according to the state Division of Elections.

But citing the state’s geology, Doyle told Watchdog, “there’s not much to gain from hydraulic fracturing in Florida.”

“There may be a few pockets where it could be done in Southwest Florida, but, generally, sandy ground doesn’t offer much in the way of resource extraction from hydraulic fracturing,” he said.

Southwest Florida’s Collier County got a scare last year when residents learned a Texas-based company was using high-pressured acid to dissolve underground limestone bedrock close to the Everglades.

Widespread fear over the fracking-like process culminated with the state Department of Environmental Protection slapping the company with a cease-and-desist order. County officials asked regulators to revoke the drilling permit, effectively creating a local ban.

Two separate water quality tests found area groundwater wasn’t affected.

“Today’s results further confirm that contamination in the area is highly unlikely,” DEP Secretary Hershel T. Vinyard Jr. said in July.

On Friday, the Obama administration’s top regulator of federal lands voiced concern over the type of fracking bans gaining traction in Florida.

In an interview with California National Public Radio affiliate KQED, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the recent New York state ban doesn’t sit well with her.

“There are a lot of fears out there in the general public, and that manifests itself with local laws or regional laws,” said Jewell, a former petroleum engineer.

“There is a lot of misinformation about fracking,” she said. “I think that localized efforts or statewide efforts in many cases don’t understand the science behind it, and I think there needs to be more science.”

Upon filing his legislation, Soto said, “Florida is home to scenic beaches, wonderful springs and the legendary Everglades. This natural beauty, in turn, fosters a strong tourism industry, annually attracting many new residents to our shores. It must be preserved.”

Doyle, who advocates for the consumer benefits of cheap energy, says such sentiment points to a false choice.

“You can safely produce affordable energy and still be pro-environment,” he said.

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