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Marc Yacht: Florida moves fracking regulation bill forward

The assault on Florida’s environment continues as a Senate committee last week approved a bill that would make it easier for companies to use fracking technology to drill for oil and gas in the state.

Lest we forget, the administration of Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the words “climate change” scrubbed from official speeches and releases. The governor has politicized the Florida Department of Environment Protection (DEP) and weakened its authority to regulate polluters.

Now Scott and his Republican legislators hope to allow drillers to use hydraulic fracturing — fracking. In a state so concerned about protecting its natural resources, does it make any sense?

The bill would allow blasting deep underground to release more gas and oil.  Currently and for some time to come, there is plenty of fossil fuels. Falling prices show the oversupply. The money spent on fracking should be used to research and develop alternative fuels.

Those favoring fracking stress that it cuts our use of coal, which is a particularly dirty fuel.  Burning coal generates 29 percent of our nation’s electricity, but it contributes to the death of thousands of people annually. In contrast, natural gas is a relatively clean fuel.

Well-run drilling operations, which extract oil and gas from thousands of feet underground, have a good safety record.  But cracks created by the process may release pollutants into groundwater or the atmosphere.

Proponents argue that fracking improves air quality, decreases our dependence on foreign oil, lowers taxes and increases returns on investments.

Opponents contend that air quality improvements are overstated. More research is needed to understand fracking’s potential health impact on people who live near the wells.

Some people who live near fracking sites say that their tap water has been contaminated.  Some claim water has become bubbly and flammable. Others just don’t trust the drilling companies. They claim studies are hidden and accidents are covered up.  They point to corporate misconduct in the tobacco, pharmacy and automobile industries.

Fracking requires a huge amount of water and opponents say the process compromises water resources. They also complain that heavy trucks tear up roads and rigs blight the view.  They question whether companies will clean up drill sites after the wells are abandoned.

Wise legislators know that gas and oil are in abundance and that alternative fuels are becoming more affordable.

Florida is flat and low and its environment can be damaged easily. Yet the Scott Administration and the Legislature are eager to allow more drilling and development there.

The Florida Senate and Environmental and Conservation Committee approved SB318 last week. It now goes to the Appropriations subcommittee on General Government.

There is no need for hydraulic fracturing; there is no need for Florida coastal or inland gas and oil exploration.  There is a need to leave the state’s magnificent coast and pristine Everglades alone.

***

Dr. Marc J. Yacht, MD, MPH is a retired public health physician.  This column is courtesy of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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