Pinellas County Commission to consider fracking ban Tuesday
On the heels of a failed state bill that would have authorized fracking in Florida and prevented local governments from regulating it, the Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday will consider banning the practice countywide.
The proposed ordinance states the high-pressure drilling technique – which pumps water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations to extract oil and gas – could irreparably harm the Floridan Aquifer and threaten the health and safety of the public.
There are no wells currently being fracked in Florida, but hydraulic fracturing is allowed and does not require a separate permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection like the one required to drill oil and gas wells.
In March, the Florida Legislature considered a bill which would have established a regulatory process for fracking, but it failed in the Senate.
Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said local bans on fracking are critical to the environmental movement, but that such ordinances could potentially be overridden by a future state law regulating the practice.
She said the push to build a fracking industry in Florida is tied to the utilities' desire to expand power plants, which means customers would be paying for those investments for decades.
The environmental risks of the practice are even more concerning, she said.
“The process of fracking natural gas out of shelf formations is in and of itself very harmful,” she said. “It requires enormous amounts of water. They use up to 600 chemicals in the fracking fluid, many of which are known carcinogens. They leave behind a marred landscape and the potential for chemicals to get into the drinking water. We've seen all over the country where the chemicals leak into the drinking water and in many cases see an increase in earthquakes.”
But David Mica, director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said data like a three-year study conducted by the University of Cincinnati shows no evidence fracking causes groundwater contamination.
He said fracking, conducted in parts of the U.S. for decades, has helped make America the world leader in energy production, in turn helping keep crude prices down.
“This is a technology that has changed and revolutionized American energy,” Mica said. “It's very widespread. It's a technology that has allowed us to capture oil and gas while also increasing our production. We've been able to reduce carbon dioxide to 1993 levels while basically reversing the table on oil production in the U.S. from being importers of 60 percent to producing more than 60 percent of our oil.”
The county commission will discuss the ordinance during its regular meeting Tuesday, which begins at 9:30 a.m. In the 5th floor assembly room at 315 Court Street in Clearwater.