For all intents and purposes, the Republican party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. So it is somewhat surprising to learn that a bill in the Florida Senate that would ban fracking in the Sunshine State has been endorsed by all ten members — Republicans and Democrats alike — of the environmental conservation committee. This comes at a time when fracking is gaining ground in many US states and on public land, urged on by fossil fuel industry advocates.
Florida has a very unusual geological makeup. It primarily sits on a limestone substrate that is exceedingly porous. The idea of millions of gallons of highly polluted water being injected deep underground, where it could easily flow into the aquifers that provide drinking water for Florida’s residents and the millions of tourists who visit the state each year is just too frightening for the state’s senators to contemplate.
The bill under consideration was introduced by senator Dana Young, a Republican from Tampa. It would place a permanent ban on “advanced well stimulation techniques” for producing oil and gas, including fracking and acidizing, according to a report by TruthOut. Acidizing is a technique that dissolves underground formations (like limestone) with corrosive acids. Just what you want your kids drinking, right? Young said in a statement that the legislation is a “priority” for protecting “drinking water and our one-of-a-kind natural resources.”
“[Fracking] is a bipartisan issue, just like the opposition to offshore drilling, because Florida is really dependent on a tourism economy,” says Jorge Aguilar, the southern regional director for Food & Water Watch, a group that campaigns to ban fracking. He adds that Floridians still vividly remember the horrors that befell the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon debacle in 2010 and consider it a cautionary lesson about what could happen to their entire state if the rapacious fossil fuel companies have their way.
Florida has a long history of environmental legislation designed to protect its vulnerable natural resources, particularly the Everglades, from the effects of industrial exploitation. It is one thing to create jobs, but not if it means those who visit or live in the state can’t flush their toilets.
“What we see in Florida is a real focus on protecting its water resources; the geology of the state is really porous,” Aguilar says. “There is a real fear by [both] conservatives and Democrats that the fracking industry — which is a new, unconventional type of drilling — could really contaminate water resources and use up millions of gallons of water.”
Several oil and gas operators have expressed an interest in drilling in the Florida Panhandle that stretches across the top of the Gulf of Mexico to the Alabama line and in the southwest portion of the state. And they have hired lobbyists to oppose the ban in the more malleable Florida House of Representatives. “You’re sending a message to the rest of the country that fracking is not good, and I think that’s the wrong message,” Florida Petroleum Council Associate Director Eric Hamilton told the Sun Sentinel, explaining that fracking can be done “safely” in Florida if large reserves of oil and gas are discovered in the future.
No it can’t, Mr. Hamilton. There is no conceivable way fracking can be done safely, as study after study has shown. House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, a Republican, supports a moratorium on fracking until more studies have been done, but Jorge Aguilar thinks the core of Republicanism — a loathing for spending government money — may be the secret weapon in the move to ban fracking.
He says fracking is already unpopular with the citizens of Florida, who will protest long and loud about spending more public money on even more studies. “What we have argued is that there are enough studies to show the inherent harms of fracking that we don’t need to spend any more taxpayer money to … make sure it’s not right for Florida,” Aguilar says.
Now the legislature will have to decide whether it wants to represent the will of the people or position itself to profit from more bribes from the fossil fuel industry. If past history is any guide, a contest between money and the best interests of the people is usually no contest at all.
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