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Your View: Tallahassee says “Frack You”

Your View is a recurring series of opinion pieces from members of The New Tropic community. To share your ideas, goals, and work about Miami with the community in a Your View piece, please submit it here.

If you don’t know about fracking yet, you need to know right now.

That’s because the Florida Senate is voting on it this Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, and you have just one day to make your voice heard. If you don’t make four phone calls ASAP (see details at the bottom), the voices that will be heard are from huge corporations that spend millions to dictate policies that harm all of us.

Urban Paradise Guild protestors in Tallahassee. (Courtesy of Urban Paradise Guild)
Urban Paradise Guild protestors in Tallahassee. (Courtesy of Urban Paradise Guild)

Fracking has a horrible reputation for good reasons

It is the hydraulic fracturing of rock using toxic chemicals to release natural gas, which is sold to us on the pretense that this is “clean” energy.

The reality is completely different. There’s nothing clean about it. Even where it is regulated, the damage it does is terrible. The cost in human suffering and environmental damage is massive. Fracking is toxic. Fracking is documented to cause a range of conditions from asthma to cancer.

Known carcinogens are common. Even inhaled contamination is a huge factor. A study found residents within a kilometer of a well had up to twice the number of health problems as those living at least 2 kilometers away (US News). Groundwater and well water are contaminated. Surface water is polluted, so environmental resources and crops and livestock are poisoned.

Dangers Of FrackingFracking generates billions of gallons of these toxic waste fluids. Where does this vile substance go? In Oklahoma (where earthquakes used to be rare), they are experiencing a plague of quakes, apparently caused by underground disposal of fracking fluids (Can fracking cause earthquakes? NPR StateImpact). In Florida’s limestone rock, which is already legendary for sinkholes that eat houses and vehicles, it could be devastating. The Floridian aquifer is the source of most of our drinking water.

The other disposal method would be surface storage, evaporating in our hot sun or seeping down through the rock… Either method exposes the public to unacceptably high risks.

If that wasn’t enough reason to ban fracking, it gets much worse. Fracking releases methane into the air in unrestricted and unregulated quantities. As a greenhouse gas, methane is about 25 times more dangerous than carbon (EPA). That makes fracking dirtier than coal… So fracking is drowning Miami.

None of this seems to concern policymakers in Tallahassee

Big business has created a toxic money spill. In the past 6 months, $28.5 million of dirty money has flooded the halls of our state Capitol in Tallahassee (Miami Herald), which is leading to dirty decisions.

In South Florida, local elected officials have been listening and responding to people’s well-founded fear of fracking. The Miami-Dade County Commission passed a resolution banning fracking. A similar resolution is moving forward in Broward.

Yet the Florida Legislature won’t allow us to protect ourselves. Senate Bill 318 will prevent local governments from banning fracking. House Bill 191 has already been rubber-stamped by our business-obedient House. SB318/HB191 are a wolf in sheep’s clothing — they pretend to be better than no regulation. In reality, fracking will be “regulated” by Florida’s Government (which has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Energy).

I traveled with a group of deeply worried citizens from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach to Tallahassee to bring our concerns directly to our legislators. This trip was organized by ReThink Energy Florida and other organizations, including Urban Paradise Guild, which I lead. Kim Ross of ReThink reported: “We had approximately 160 people up here from 77 different cities… We visited at least 92 (out of 160) different legislators…”

Courtesy of Bruce Stanley
Courtesy of Bruce Stanley

While there, I met Craig Stevens of Dimock, Pensylvania. His family was featured in Groundswell Rising. He showed us contaminated water pumped from the well from his family’s farm (see photo by Bruce Stanley). He and his family have been lied to and abused, his father got cancer from fracking waste, and he’s seriously pissed off. He took the time to journey to Tallahassee to spread the word, so Florida doesn’t fall victim to the plague that has done so much damage to the people of Pennsylvania.

How has business-friendly “regulation” played out in Pennsylvania? First, the frackers are allowed to keep their chemical brew confidential as a “trade secret”  —  so people are not allowed to know what toxins are making them sick. They are allowed to lie to landowners about the impacts that fracking will have on their lands at the surface. They don’t have to disclose that fracking will destroy property resale values just by being in the neighborhood, and that toxic spills of cancerous chemicals will make homes unlivable. Frackers are not held liable for damage to the land — they don’t clean up or pay compensation, and the owners are left holding the bag.

Worse yet, the Pennsylvania Department of Health had a policy where reports of people’s health conditions or factors using keywords linked to fracking were “circular filed.” They denied it, but were exposed by citizens investigating the trend. The documentary Groundswell Rising describes these and other conditions.

Americans have been told for 30 years that we are supposed to be sharply divided into right and left, and have nothing in common. Stevens, a self-described right-wing conservative from Pennsylvania, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of Florida tree-huggers. Don’t poison the world that sustains us, don’t poison the people, and especially don’t poison children. It’s a no-brainer.

The ones that we don’t share common ground with are legislators from both parties who are fast-tracking fracking. Their minds have been addled by bribes from an industry that will suck the life out of Florida.

What have other states done?

New York banned fracking in 2015 after a seven-year review of data which also gathered 260,000 public comments. The report also found that the expected employment, income, and tax brought about by natural gas development in the state would be substantially less than originally projected (Vice News). It has already been banned in Vermont. In Oklahoma and Texas, they banned local bans — apparently the model for Florida’s SB318.

Are we-the-people powerless to stop this juggernaut?

NO… Unless you are silent. Speak up — it is your right and your responsibility.

To take a stand against fracking, all it takes is four phone calls — less than 10 minutes. Just say that you care about Florida, and ask them to vote against SB318 and to ban fracking.

Sadly, callers report that even Senator Gwen Margolis (who is still remembered as a champion of environmental causes) won’t commit to voting against SB318. Please help her understand.

If you are from Miami-Dade or Broward, tell Braynon and Margolis so.

Originally published on Medium

By Sam Van Leer
Sam Van Leer is the founder and president of Urban Paradise Guild, a Florida nonprofit dedicated to bringing back Miami's natural habitat, engaging the public and local leaders to find new ways to protect the environment.

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  • CharlesWalter

    The first vote (1/25) will be in the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government. The concern here is that if it gets passed the subcommittee, the state senate will vote for it. Let’s hope that the senators in the subcommittee make the right decision. The subcommittees are all live streamed in case anyone wants to see, and the agenda has SB318 up for discussion at 4pm. https://www.flsenate.gov/Media/VideoSchedule

  • CharlesWalter

    The first vote (1/25) will be in the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government. The concern here is that if it gets passed the subcommittee, the state senate will vote for it. Let’s hope that the senators in the subcommittee make the right decision. The subcommittees are all live streamed in case anyone wants to see, and the agenda has SB318 up for discussion at 4pm. https://www.flsenate.gov/Media/VideoSchedule