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Sierra Club to host Fracking and Florida workshop

By Staff | May 12, 2015

Residents can learn about fracking and preventing it at a workshop today in Fort Myers.

The Sierra Club Calusa Group is hosting speaker Brian Lee, co-founder of ReThink Energy Florida, during its 7 p.m. meeting in the Iona House at the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium. The workshop, called Fracking and Florida, will cover what fracking is, the dangers it poses and how to help stop it.

Using reports from scientific organizations, attendees will get the most current information and issues, including a description of the status quo, the existing policies and the policy options for the future.

The workshop is free and open to the public.

“Our mission is to educate and engage people to take action towards energy independence in a more sustainable environment,” Lee said of ReThink Energy Florida. “With fossil fuel production, we see the problems that occur with pollution. People don’t really know what’s going on who live in these areas.”

He explained that fracking is a type of oil and natural gas extraction method that is utilized when conventional drilling has sort of dried up, like “scraping the bottom of the barrel.” Water is mixed with chemicals and injected down through the aquifer – a mile or two below the surface of the Earth.

“That fluid breaks up the rock formations that are holding the oil and natural gas,” Lee said.

Acidization is the exact method of fracking used in Florida due to the limestone beds.

The water and chemical mixture is injected through the aquifer in well casings, which can leak.

“If there’s leaking, it can directly pollute that aquifer,” he said.

There is also danger associated with flowback, the wastewater that returns to the surface.

“It brings up stuff that’s deep down in the surface of the Earth that are things of concern,” Lee said, citing radon, arsenic and benzene as a few examples. “Volatile organic compounds.”

Another concern – water depletion from the aquifer for the process itself.

“Hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of water are used in each fracking operation,” he said.

“Once it’s used, it’s polluted forever,” Lee added.

Using a grant provided by Patagonia, ReThink Energy Florida has been hosting Fracking and Florida workshops throughout the state in select counties. Pensacola, Tampa and Miami were visited so far.

“We’re primarily going to areas where fracking is likely to occur,” he said, adding that the regions where oil drilling is currently taking place is Southwest Florida and the western Panhandle.

It took several months before people found out it occurred in Naples.

“They know drilling is going on, but not these extreme extraction methods,” he said.

According to Lee, the oil industry does not have to disclose what chemicals are utilized, so the workshops also cover what ReThink Energy Florida knows. It shares what has occurred in other areas with fracking, such as Pennsylvania where the chemicals migrated into the local water supply.

“We suggest ways to take action to prevent, or at least know, what’s going,” he said.

Lee recommended that residents educate themselves on the issue and contact elected officials.

“It would be great to see elected officials getting together and talking about a ban (on fracking),” he said.

On April 29, the Fort Myers Beach Observer published a guest commentary written by Dan Andre, vice mayor of the Town of Fort Myers Beach. Andre advocated for a statewide ban.

In the recent legislative session, Sen. Garrett Richter and Rep. Ray Rodrigues proposed regulations on fracking in Florida. Lee noted, however, that trade secret exemptions were unfortunately included.

“It’s the elected officials that can get something done about this,” he said.

As far as the workshops, the public has been receptive.

“We’re seeing that people are very concerned about this and that they do take action,” Lee said, noting that they are contacting their elected officials. “People see fracking as a threat to our water supply.”

Several municipalities have even passed resolutions or ordinances calling for a ban. As of Tuesday, the list included Alachua County, Coconut Creek, Hallandale Beach, Hamilton County, Leon County, Madison County, Miami-Dade County, St. Augustine, St. Lucie County, Tallahassee and Union County.

“There’s close to a dozen municipalities that have asked for a statewide ban,” he said.

Lee added that Florida’s aquifer has enough problems with pollutants without adding another.

“We all share the same aquifer,” he said. “If drilling occurs and fracking occurs – that doesn’t just affect the area where it happens.”

For more on fracking, Lee suggested the documentaries “Groundswell Rising” and “Gasland.”

For more on the workshop, email admin@rethinkenergyflorida.org or visit: rethinkenergyflorida.org.

The Iona House is at the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium, at 3450 Ortiz Ave., Fort Myers.