South Florida Senator Wants to Ban Fracking Across Florida

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Mere months ago, environmentalists were concerned that the Florida Legislature was about to take the power to regulate fracking away from local communities and instead force the controversial oil-drilling process onto the state. But after months of protests, state Sen. Garrett Richter's proposal to outlaw local fracking bans never came to fruition; instead, areas such as Broward and Miami-Dade Counties were inspired to ban fracking themselves in retaliation.

And now, less than a year later, a state senator has gone to the other extreme by proposing a statewide ban on fracking.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat representing the Broward County coastline, filed a bill banning "extreme well stimulation" December 5. The bill would create a constitutional amendment — Article X, Section 30 — banning "well stimulation" statewide. If the bill passes, the public would have to vote on the measure for it to become law.

Farmer, a first-term state senator, won the most expensive primary in Florida this year by pushing an anti-fracking and pro-environment platform. During the campaign, Farmer warned voters that the Republican-led Legislature seems hellbent on letting oil-drilling companies chew through valuable Sunshine State land. On his campaign website, he wrote that "despite our water issues," the state wanted to let companies frack the land, and claimed fracking wells inject cancer- and birth-defect-causing chemicals into the water supply.

"Fracking threatens our health and way of life," Farmer wrote. "Given our porous limestone and high water table, we shouldn't allow fracking anywhere near our wells and waterways."

Fossil-fuel companies claim fracking is safe, and the practice is largely responsible for the U.S. oil and natural-gas boom, as fracked shale wells in the Dakotas and Rust Belt have led to a massive energy yield. But environmentalists almost universally agree the process is bad for the environment: Fracking wells inject water, sand, and "fracking fluid" into the land in order to fracture rocks and obtain the gas or oil beneath them.

But energy companies aren't required to tell the public what chemicals make up fracking fluid, and scientists have warned that the fluid can contaminate water or soil if spilled onto the land.

In 2013, the Guardian interviewed residents living next to a fracking well in Ponder, Texas. Some reported spontaneous nosebleeds, headaches, and nausea after a fracking well arrived in town. Also, their home values plummeted.

Now Farmer is attempting to make good on his promise to protect the Florida environment. His bill bans any kind of drilling "performed by injecting fluids into a rock formation at a high pressure that exceeds the fracture gradient of the rock formation in order to propagate fractures in the rock formation." The bill also specifies that companies will be banned from using "acid fracturing," a controversial technique that, as evidenced by its namesake, involves injecting acidic chemicals into the ground.

South Florida is a particularly precarious place for oil drilling. Most of the land, from Palm Beach County on down, sits above the Biscayne Aquifer, the region's largest source of clean drinking water. A chemical spill inside the aquifer could contaminate the reservoir permanently.

Plus, energy companies have long eyed the Everglades as a drilling site. At least one Miami company, Kanter Real Estate LLC, has filed requests to drill "exploratory wells" near the Glades west of Miramar.

In response, the overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County Commission voted to ban fracking early this year. Miami-Dade followed suit in October.

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