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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Editorial: Fracking unbound

We are not among those who view fracking as an unmitigated horror. The practice has produced an abundant supply of cheap energy, increased U.S. oil to near record highs and is helping make the nation energy self-sufficient. And because the natural gas it produces burns cleaner than oil, it even has helped reduced the United States’ carbon emissions.

Nevertheless, Floridians should be alarmed by fracking legislation that would rob local elected officials of any say over whether the practice could take place in their communities.

It is a typical Tallahassee ploy: seize control of such decisions at the urging of industry lobbyists, who know they are unlikely to get their way with the local elected officials who would have to live with the consequences.

In fracking, a mixture of water, sand and caustic chemicals is pumped deep into the ground to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas. On its face, such a process would seem unsuitable for most of Florida, with porous limestone below the surface and underground aquifers providing most of the state’s drinking water.

It’s true a comprehensive study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found no evidence the process had a widespread impact on drinking water, but the places where fracking is taking place now do not have Florida’s geology, nor its critical water needs.

As Dr. Lonnie Draper, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told The Associated Press, the very process is designed to create leaks in the layers of earth that contain oil and gas, increasing the risk to Florida’s underground water supply.

The EPA study, after all, did document cases of damaging spills and leaks. Fracking also has been linked to minor earthquakes, hardly an insignificant concern to homeowners and builders.

For such reasons, as The Associated Press reports, about 20 Florida counties and 40 cities have banned fracking. Yet the legislation advancing in Tallahassee eliminates local control, not only over fracking but over any decisions concerning the processing, storage or transportation of oil and gas. A similar bill made it through the House last session but not the Senate.

The Florida League of Cities opposes the measure because it strips local governments of the ability to protect residents. As Tom Shelly, a Belleair commissioner, says, “We would lose our authority over land decisions. We couldn’t stop fracking even it was planned next to a school.”

If lawmakers do anything, they should adopt minimum safety standards. But local governments should retain the authority to adopt whatever regulations they deem necessary, or to prohibit the mining altogether.

Environmentalists are pushing for a statewide ban on fracking. That may be an overreaction, but is more responsible than stripping local governments of any say over such critical decisions and essentially encouraging companies to pursue fracking here.

Florida, already the nation’s third-largest state, cannot continue to grow and prosper if it does not rigorously protect its water sources and natural appeal. Lawmakers should bury the fracking push.

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