Imagine a future where Florida’s soil and air are contaminated, iconic endangered species like the Florida panther are lost forever and our drinking water is poisoned. Unfortunately it could happen — if we don’t put a stop to new oil and gas extraction process known as acid fracking.
There are many environmental and public health concerns linked to fracking. More than 1,000 cases of water contamination have been documented near fracking sites as well as sensory, respiratory, and neurological problems. Gas that is leaked during the fracking process, along with the numerous toxic chemicals that are used, creates air pollution, contributes to global warming and is a danger to human health.
Inexplicably, Gov. Rick Scott stated in 2011 that he supports oil and gas drilling in the Everglades. And just last month, he was slapped with an ethics complaint alleging a conflict of interest for his investment in a company that is drilling near the Everglades.
Scott’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hid Dan A. Hughes Co.’s illegal Everglades fracking from the public for months, and to this day the company has failed to disclose exactly what they’ve been pumping into our ground to extract fossil fuels, citing industry “trade secrets.” The Florida DEP’s initial punishment amounted to a $25,000 slap on the wrist fine. Just as alarming, over the past five years the DEP has not denied a single drilling permit but has approved more than 40.
Despite the Scott administration’s weak response to illegal fracking, concerned Floridians and citizens groups, including the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Preserve Our Paradise, and the Stonecrab Alliance, arefighting back, and it’s working.
It took a massive public outcry, but the Florida DEP finally discovered what the “E” and the “P” mean in their acronym and revoked the Hughes Co. permit more than six months after the Texas-based company undertook its unauthorized fracking.
On July 15, Hughes Co. announced that it would suspend drilling at the so-called Collier Hogan well, site of the fracking incident. And although Hughes may still face further action from the DEP, some lawmakers have begun pushing for tougher regulations on the oil and gas industry, including a statewide ban on fracking.
A moratorium on fracking in Florida makes sense. There is great uncertainty about the effect of fracking on the environment and public health. Those concerns are magnified in Florida because of our unique ecology and hydrology. Moreover, it has become clear that Floridians can’t count on the Scott administration to put the public’s health and safety above the interests of bad corporate actors like Hughes Co.
The Hughes Co.’s suspension of oil extraction activities in the Everglades amounts to only a partial victory for Floridians. The threat fracking poses to Florida remains, especially while Scott is in office. Given its location in the Everglades and the potential harm drilling may do to South Florida’s drinking water supply, Hughes’ permit should never have been approved.
State lawmakers who cherish Florida’s natural treasures and the health of their constituents should pass a statewide ban on all fracking-like drilling during the 2015 legislative session. Meanwhile, the Scott administration should suspend permitting on all fracking-like drilling projects.
If these policymakers don’t care about protecting wilderness, wildlife or public health, maybe the fact that the health of our economy is inextricably linked to the health of our environment will convince them to do the right thing.
Mark Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy organization. Column courtesy of Context Florida.