Activists Push Miami Republicans to Kill Plan to Frack in Florida

Twenty-seven counties and 41 cities have already banned fracking in Florida. Environmentalists warn that the oil extraction technique could harm the fragile Everglades. And with the price of oil plummeting, the expensive procedure may not make much economic sense. 

So why are Florida Republicans so gung-ho to start fracking in the Sunshine State? After the Florida House passed a statewide fracking law last month, all eyes are now on the Senate — and on two Miami Republicans who could help decide the fate of the controversial process. Critics say defeating the measure is vital.

“We cannot risk any damage, long or short term, to our drinking water supply,” says Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who opposes the bill. “Oil and water don’t mix.”

Despite strong local opposition — including from Broward County, where the county commission voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking — the Florida House passed a bill to legalize the procedure and to override local bans. The Senate's version of the same bill already passed one committee and is awaiting another vote.

Activists have spent this week pressing Senate Republicans to vote against the bill, including a pair from Miami, where fracking is hugely unpopular. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Rene Garcia's votes could be key — Garcia, especially, because he's on the Appropriations Committee where the bill now sits. Sen. Anitere Flores, from Kendall, came out against the bill on Wednesday. On Twitter, she used the hashtag #FrackIsWhack to voice her opposition.

But the oil and gas industry is also flooding the coffers of state lawmakers, helping to drum up support for the legislation. Last month, the Miami Herald reported that the Barron Collier Companies, seeking to frack in Naples, recently donated $115,000 to lawmakers, up from $63,500 last session. 

In the meantime, activists are scrambling to educate Floridians about the practice of fracking, which is short for hydraulic fracturing, a method of pumping huge amounts of water, sand, and chemicals into rock deep below the earth’s surface to release trapped gas. Fracking is often touted as a solution to the country’s dependence on foreign oil and dirty coal.

But fracking is also highly controversial, especially in a state where the drinking water supply relies so heavily on groundwater. In Florida, 90 percent of residents get their drinking water from underground supplies. Environmentalists and opponents to the bill say the risk of contamination is simply too high, both to humans and wildlife.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a large-scale, multiyear study into the impact of fracking on water supply. Preliminary findings last year reported that “hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources.” 

As part of the Florida fracking legislation, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would not have to disclose chemicals used in fracking that are deemed trade secrets, which means the public would likely not have access to information about the chemicals or carcinogens being pumped into the ground.

Across the state, local governments have voiced their concerns over the prospect of fracking in Florida. Though the Miami-Dade County Commission has not passed an outright ban, it is working with the Florida Association of Counties to pass a resolution that opposes the part of the legislation that gives state government sole power to regulate the process. 

“We want counties to be able to decide,” Levine Cava says. “There is nothing that makes the state legislature's insights about local issues superior to the policymakers at the local level.”

Environmental activist Sam Van Leer, of the Urban Paradise Guild, organized an anti-fracking rally on Biscayne Boulevard on Saturday. He points out that instead of new oil and gas operations, Florida should be prioritizing solar energy. “Fracking is obsolete,” he says. “It’s dirty and toxic.”

Beyond environmental and safety concerns, many are scratching their heads as to why lawmakers are pushing for fracking now, with the price of oil currently at a historic low.

“It’s baffling,” Levine Cava says. “Is it really worth the short-term gain of a few barrels of oil that aren’t even needed in today’s market?”
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Jessica Weiss