A tale of two hearings on Florida fracking

Florida Panther at Big Cypress Reserve - photo Ralph Arwood FlickrFlorida Panther at Big Cypress National Preserve, which is near the site of the proposed fraking well. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/Ralph Arwood.On March 11th, a powerful coalition of neighborhood groups, environmental organizations and outraged citizens gathered at a community center outside Naples, Florida to take a stand against acid fracking. They raised their voices to demand that the EPA deny the Daniel Hughes LLP oil well a permit for an underground injection disposal well—the type of well used for acid fracking. Over 250 people from around Florida came together to express their grave concerns about acid fracking. Environmental organizations including Environment Florida, Gulf Restoration Network, Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, 350.org and the South Florida Wildlands Association worked with the Naples-based Stone Crab Alliance and Preserve Our Paradise to bring people out to the event. The rally preceded the start of an EPA information session, and, in an odd twist, coincided with a Florida Department of Environmental Protection advisory committee meeting. Although the FDEP has already rubber-stamped the permit for the oil well itself, an administrative hearing judge extended the comment period until after the advisory committee had met. The advisory meeting did nothing to sway the opinion of a visually and verbally outraged public.

<--break->

The FDEP hearing was poorly conducted by staff that seemed to have few answers to the many questions the coalition posed, causing loud responses from the standing-room-only crowd. Calls to “get the frack out of Florida” resonated throughout the hearing. Unsurprisingly, presentations focused on the ‘safety’ of the well for humans and for the environment, and FDEP committee member David Mica of the Florida Petroleum Council recommended immediate approval of the permit. Coalition members John Elting, a conservationist with Audubon Florida, and Paula Sessions, a hydrologist with URS Corporation asked questions, but neither received substantive answers from the FDEP committee. In the end, the committee agreed to allow three more weeks for consideration of the permit applications and public comments.

By contrast, the EPA’s evening hearing was well-managed. Members of the public that spoke uniformly bashed the plan to inject toxic chemicals below the Floridan Aquifer – source of drinking water for most Floridians. Primary concerns included the use of over 5 million gallons of freshwater per month, the proximity of drinking water wells, threats to panther habitat, the toxicity of the drilling chemicals, the migration of the chemicals into the aquifer and into our coastal zones, and the physical danger to nearby residents.

EPA responded to the long list of community and technical concerns by extending the official comment period for 20 more days, until March 31st. You can send in your comments to the EPA by clicking here. The agency has promised to review the materials in 60-90 days, but has not given a specific timeframe for the permit decision.

Meanwhile, the Florida legislature has pulled back on its efforts to push through two bills that would exempt fracking chemicals from public disclosure. David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice, said he isn’t surprised the anti-disclosure bill is making little progress this year. “I have my doubts about whether it will pass,” he said. Guest went on to say: “The proposition that these are trade secrets is ridiculous. It’s like pancake mix. If you’re going to inject something into the ground, you have to say what it is. This is a groundwater contaminant secrecy bill.”

Cathy Harrelson is GRN's Florida Organizer.