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Moratorium needed on experimental oil extraction methods

September 23, 2015
By RAY JUDAH , Lehigh Acres Citizen

In 2014, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and several other environmental organizations, including the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition and Stone Crab Alliance, raised concerns with the potential contamination of drinking water supplies from oil and drilling fluids associated with unconventional extraction and spearheaded an effort resulting in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection revoking the oil drilling permit from the Dan A. Hughes Company due to permit violations and uncertainty on impacts to water supplies.

Last year in response to public concern, legislation was introduced by two prominent Southwest Florida legislators, Rep. Ray Rodrigues and Sen. Garrett Richter, to regulate fracking in Florida. On the surface, the public may have believed that such legislation would have provided greater regulation and oversight of the oil industry but, the effort fell woefully short in protecting precious public drinking water because the legislation failed to include all unconventional drilling techniques used in Florida - focusing on those fracturing rock but not those dissolving it though they both use hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, the legislation continued to allow the withholding of critical information such as all of the chemicals used under the veil of "proprietary information."

Fortunately, the legislation failed to move forward when the legislature imploded and prematurely adjourned session due to an impasse between the House and Senate on the budget. Similar legislation is likely to be introduced again by the same two sponsors during the 2016 legislative session.

Unconventional oil extraction, such as acid stimulation and hydraulic fracturing, could lead to contamination of our groundwater aquifers used for drinking water supplies including the Floridan Aquifer, one of the most productive aquifers in the world. Multiple pathways for potential contamination have been identified including surface spills, improper disposal of waste, upwards migration of injection fluids through fractures or nearby improperly plugged abandoned wells, as well as leaks from improperly constructed well casings.

Fracking has already been documented to have contaminated drinking water wells in Pennsylvania. The state of New York banned fracking after a seven year review of fracking determined that, "High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated." No such evaluation has been conducted about using these techniques in Florida, with its significantly more delicate geology. Legislation introduced in last session would have caused only fracturing operations, a small subset of unconventional extraction techniques, to even be studied. Other forms of unconventional extractions would continue with no study or virtually no state oversight.

Suffice to say that any form of extreme oil extraction, including acid stimulation or hydraulic fracturing, should be strictly prohibited until the Florida Department of Environmental Protection completes a comprehensive analysis on the potential impacts to surface and ground water resources. Florida's limestone formations are extremely vulnerable to the toxic brew of acids and other highly reactive chemicals used by the oil industry to extract oil from deposits under critical public water supply sources.

Citizens need to contact Rep. Rodrigues, Sen. Richter, other legislators and Gov. Rick Scott immediately to urge them to impose a moratorium on all unconventional oil extraction. They should also direct the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to proceed with a comprehensive study of the potential environmental impacts of those techniques on ground and surface water resources.

We cannot be experimenting with our water supplies. Continuing to allow any form of unconventional oil extraction without sufficient science and regulatory oversight is doing exactly that.

Ray Judah is the coordinator of the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition.

 
 

 

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