Report points out potential dangers to environment and water supply of drilling in southwest Florida

12/10/13 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: Environment Florida, drilling, Oil, Fracking


Jennifer Rubiello, field associate with Environment Florida.

photo by Seán Kinane / WMNF News

A new report by a Florida environmental group warns that drilling for fossil fuels in the southwest part of the state could threaten habitat and water supplies.

Last week the Environment Florida Research and Policy Center released Fracking by the Numbers.

We spoke with Jennifer Rubiello, a field associate with Environment Florida.

"The issue of fracking in Florida has been a bit of a concern. There have been oil and gas companies that have applied for exploratory wells from the DEP, Department of Environmental Protection. They've also applied for permits from the EPA for wastewater injection wells."

Where is that located?

"In Collier County, Hendry, and a couple of other counties across the state."

So Southwest Florida and you've been expressing concern about how close that is to drinking water supplies and the Big Cypress National Preserve, why would that be a concern? Why would drilling in those areas concern you?

"We've seen this dirty drilling practice happen across the country and expand and we've seen documented cases of contaminated drinking water and residents getting sick and beautiful landscapes being turned into industrial zones. So these permits are frighteningly close to the panther habitat, the wild refuge for the panther habitat and the homes of residents and also the future drinking water for Collier County residents."

You started telling me some of the things that could go wrong with the drilling; contaminated drinking water. What about how much water do injection wells use often and what kinds of chemicals might you find and other types of pollution they're associated with because you have a report that's called "fracking by the numbers" and it goes into some of the global warming pollution, some of the damage to the natural heritage, and use of water. What could be a worse case scenario, I guess?

"I think it's important to look at some of the numbers nationally so the report measures has found that there has been over 280 billion gallons of wastewater that have been produced in 2012, and 250 billion gallons of water used. Then to dive into lands, there have been 360,000 acres of land degraded so considering that this is so close to a protected space and to residents drinking water we wouldn't want anything to happen to those places. The bottom line is that we shouldn't have any kind of fracking or drilling near our treasured places, near Big Cypress, and certainly not near the drinking water sources of people."

Your report primarily looks at fracking where there are shale deposits and, in Florida generally, except for the tip of the Panhandle, there's not shale, it's limestone. Give our listeners an idea of how the drilling process in limestone might be different than, or the same, as in shale?

"Drilling in limestone would still turn our natural areas into industrial zones. We'd still have to build all of the infrastructure to drill, there would still be wastewater produced from that process and we would have to deal with it. Actually our report shows that a particular concern for Florida that deep disposal wells are a common destination for fracking waste, for a lot of drilling waste. These wells can fail over time which allows the wastewater and it's pollutants to mix with groundwater and surface water. So, for example, there was wastewater injected into a disposal that contaminated 6.2 billion gallons of water in an aquifer in Midland, Texas. And the nationally routine testing of injection wells in 2010 revealed that 2300 failed to meet mechanical integrity requirements established by the EPA."

These permits have been applied for but they haven't been granted. What happens? The EPA has to look at them, the DEP has to look at them, is there a way for citizens to get involved?

"Sure, the Department of Environmental Protection has granted oil and gas companies exploratory permits, the EPA is considering permits for wastewater injection wells, there should be more on that in 2014. There's definitely room for citizens to get involved. We need to urge our elected officials to stand up and speak out against drilling. We actually have state senator Greg Bullard has been very supportive. He's noted that given the extraordinary evidence and concern from constituents that he sees no reason why we don't postpone any further drilling that could be detrimental to our water and ecosystem. We echo those sentiments and we're urging the Environmental Protection Agency and we need other citizens to do the same, to stand up for Florida's drinking water and special places and reject permits that would facilitate any kind of fracking or drilling process in the state. It's also important to note that at the federal level, in terms of fracking, the first step is to close loopholes, especially the ones that exempt toxic fracking waste from our nations hazardous waste laws. Second, the Obama administration should keep fracking away from our national parks and our national forests and our sources of drinking water for millions of Americans. That's consistent with some of the recommendations of the administrations own advisory committees."

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