A bill to regulate and study fracking in Florida was defeated earlier this year in the state Legislature; but environmentalists are still concerned about the fossil fuel extraction technique that uses fluids that dissolve rock. A Florida Fracking Summit will be held Wednesday in Ft. Myers on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. Jennifer Hecker is director of natural resource policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
“It’s still open and available for anyone in the public, to attend. It’s absolutely free. We are going to bring in national experts. This is actually the second annual fracking summit, where we are providing an educational forum with different technical and scientific experts on what the risks and potential impacts are of fracking coming to Florida.”
What kind of history has there been of fracking in southwest Florida?
“In 2013 there was the first case of unauthorized fracking-like activity, here in Collier County, in southwest Florida. That was at a site called the Hogan Well site.
“A driller, Dan A. Hughes, had first used a matrix acidizing, which is a method to dissolve rock with the injections of chemicals underground. Then, later when they didn’t get enough stimulation of their production, they moved into hydraulic fracturing, which is the standard fracking. Both of those can produce toxic wastewater, involve a lot of water usage and use harmful contaminants, including cancer-causing chemicals.
“So, those are of great concern to us. We want to make sure that the public understands that this, indeed, is occurring in Florida and to understand how this might affect them and what they can do to get engaged.”
Recently, we found out about a dumping of fracking waste. What was that?
“So, just actually a few weeks ago, we learned that at the Hogan Wells site, the driller had taken some of the toxic flow-back fluid that is produced when they do these fracking activities, and they had re-injected it into the production wells.
“So, originally they were supposed to build a separate deep-well injection, which would inject it deep underground, below the levels of aquifers or groundwater that’s used for drinking. Instead, they actually re-injected the waste, some of it, down the casings of the production well, to levels that are not deep enough–that are not where we safely dispose of any waste material. So, that’s of great concern, because that could lead to potential contamination of groundwater resources, including resources that are used for drinking water supplies. That’s why we were so alarmed when we learned that they had undertaken that at their well site.
“We’re still looking into that matter and trying to get more information to make sure that there’s adequate groundwater testing and analysis and that the driller is held accountable–fully accountable–for what they did there.”
Earlier this year the Florida legislature rejected a plan to monitor and regulate and study fracking. Where does that stand, as far as the next legislative session?
“We actually were successful in stopping that harmful bill last year. That bill would have done more harm than good, in that it would not only have not really suspended or studied all forms of fracking-like activity, in Florida, but, it also would have eliminated many home-rule authorities of local governments to have a say in what oil and gas activities occur in their communities.
“That bill was really something that drew unanimous opposition from environmental groups, from public interest groups, from medical professional associations and as a result of our collective advocacy work, we were able to defeat it.
“We are working, this year, to see that the legislature does pass some meaningful legislation to immediately suspend and study all forms of fracking-like activities, to make sure that they don’t continue to be used in our state, especially since they’re not proven in these types of conditions. And we don’t really understand what the potential risks and impacts are from using them in our unique geology and hydrology, here in Florida.”
Do you have a sponsor or has a bill been submitted for that?
“We’re really early in session, so, no there aren’t bills at this time, that have defined sponsors or have been submitted, but, we are working towards that. And we’re hopeful that legislators, now, are keenly aware, all over the state, of this threat and are interested in making sure that we don’t continue to allow these unproven technologies to be used. They are, right now, allowed and there is very little regulatory framework and oversight.
“The other issue is that they’re often being done in complete secrecy, where they notify the state, but, then ask the state to withhold all information from local governments and the public about the usage of these techniques. That’s unacceptable, in our view.
“We need to immediately suspend and study these techniques. And then, in the future, we need to look at what we need to do to make sure that we never have what happened at the Hogan Wells ever happen again, anywhere else in our state.”
And finally, again, where can people go for more information to find out about the Florida Fracking Summit?
“So, we still welcome everyone who can, to attend. There’s plenty of seating, still.
“We do have Dr. Anthony Ingraffea coming in from Cornell University, who is a national expert on fracking, as well as numerous other national experts.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for people to get free education as to what these techniques involve and what they can do. “And we would encourage them to learn more at www.flfrackingsummit.org On that website you can find the agenda, the registration materials and anything else that might be of interest about this event, which is tomorrow, at the Florida Gulf Coast University.”