Henderson: Young's anti-fracking bill holds promise

New state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, says she plans to introduce a bill in the coming session of the Legislature to enact a statewide ban on fracking in Florida.
New state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, says she plans to introduce a bill in the coming session of the Legislature to enact a statewide ban on fracking in Florida.
Published Dec. 2, 2016

The campaign to represent District 18 in the Florida Senate was nasty, with charges and counter-charges flying to the point where voters might have been tempted to hide under the covers.

One of the more virulent exchanges came on the issue of hydraulic fracking.

That's where energy companies shoot water, often mixed with toxic chemicals, into an oil or gas well at high pressure. It's designed to fracture rocks that contain energy sources, and those companies promise everyone, especially those skittish environmentalists:

It. Is. Perfectly. Safe.

Yeah, safe.

Unless you happen to live in a state where those rocks are mixed in with the underground aquifer that supplies drinking water for 20 million residents. Introduce enough poison into the water supply that interconnects throughout Florida and it's possible we could eventually have a crisis that would make Flint, Mich., seem like a Sunday School picnic.

Even if that likelihood is remote, why take a chance?

That was the issue opponents tried to stick on Republican Dana Young, and it caused her a lot of problems in the campaign. She was called out in attack ads for her votes as a member of the Florida House that supported fracking, even though she continually said she was against it.

It did seem to be quite a contradiction and Young struggled at times to explain it, but she won the race anyway.

She now has the chance to prove she was serious with what she said about fracking, and took a first step by promising to introduce a bill when the Legislature opens in 2017 to outlaw that practice throughout the state.

This is a big deal.

As if we needed another reason to be skittish about the potential for major damage to our water supply, look at recent events in Polk County and the giant Mosaic fertilizer company. A humongous sinkhole opened under a gypsum stack on company property and dumped more than 215 million gallons of tainted water into the aquifer.

Florida already has more than 1,600 sinkholes throughout the state, and the largest concentration by far is in the Tampa Bay area and the district Young represents. One of the criticisms of fracking is that it contributes to sinkholes in the state's delicate underground. So not only is her stance smart policy, it's smart politics.

The GOP, lest we forget, hasn't always adopted environmentally friendly policies.

Gov. Rick Scott has been justly criticized for gutting many environmental regulations. The Legislature also subverted the will of an overwhelming majority of Floridians who voted in 2014 to preserve land for wildlife, forests and wetlands.

President-elect Donald Trump has signaled an openness to expand oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, hearkening back to those immortal words of Sarah Palin: Drill baby, drill.

So, it's refreshing to hear Young say emphatically she is against fracking.

Here's where we add the "however" part to this would-be success story.

As of this writing, she hasn't filed the bill so we don't know the details. If, hopefully, her bill provides no wiggle room, that doesn't mean it will pass. Similar efforts aimed at stopping fracking never got out of committee.

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If her bill does make it to the floor and eventually becomes law, what will it look like after lobbyists and special interests get their "adjustments" attached? It could wind up being as toothless as Florida's anti-texting law for motorists.

This is going to be a tough fight.

The lure of unlocking more energy sources is powerful, and puppets in Tallahassee usually go along when they hear companies say the magic words:

It. Is. Perfectly. Safe.

You know what really would be perfectly safe?

Just outlaw fracking. Problem solved.

Contact Joe Henderson at