St. Petersburg seeks ordinance to ban fracking

Karl Nurse no fracking
St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse holds a sign in opposition to fracking. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (12 May 2016).

St. Petersburg City Council will soon consider an ordinance to ban the drilling technique known as fracking and the transportation or storage of fracking wastewater within the city limits; Council vice chair Darden Rice says fracking for natural gas is too risky for St. Pete’s regional water supply, climate change and rising seas.

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“St. Pete’s in the cross-hairs of sea-level rise and climate change. The Tampa Bay area is on the list of the top 10 areas in the world, most at risk from the impacts of sea-level rise. Fracking impacts our drinking water supplies and so, that’s a big concern.

“We need to be doing everything we can to lessen our dependency on fossil fuels. Continuing our dependency on oil and of fracking, only undermines our city’s best efforts to do climate action planning, resiliency planning, it undoes all of our great work on planting trees and complete streets designs.”

Like many other cities and counties in Florida, St. Petersburg recently passed a resolution banning hydraulic fracturing. But now they’ll consider the stronger legal protections provided by an ordinance. A press conference on the steps of St. Pete City Hall Thursday afternoon coincides with the release of a report on how the country’s fracking boom has impacted health, the environment and water quality. Jennifer Rubiello is state director of Environment Florida, which released the report.

“For the past decade the fracking industry and fracking in general, has been a nightmare for our public health, our drinking water and our open lands, as well as our climate.

“Our report shows fracking wells created as much global warming pollution as 22 coal-fired power plants, in a single year. And fracking wells have produced at least 14 billion gallons of wastewater in 2014. So, to put that in another way that, hopefully, folks can understand a little bit better, fracking wells have produced enough gallons of toxic wastewater to fill Tropicana Field 22 times.”

City Council member Steve Kornell says it’s for reasons like that that St. Petersburg needs to ban fracking.

“I think supporting fracking for energy is like investing, really heavily, in a better horse and buggy for transportation. We know the end result. We know it’s not going to be positive and we do not want it in St. Petersburg. I wish our state would make the same statement. I think they’re not going to do that and so we’re going to act as a city and make sure that we protect your drinking water and we protect your health.”

There’s evidence to back up Kornell’s claim that fracking is harmful to public health, according to Dr. Les Cole with St. Petersburg Health & Wellness.

“I have serious concerns about fracking and fracking wastewater. They are known causes for many disease states. The chemicals that are involved, some of them have been mentioned, but, I want to mention some others. Chemical components of fracking fluids… First I want to talk about the various diseases that they can or have been linked to: cancer, hormone disruption, developmental issues, neurologic disease and immune dysfunction.”

Dr. Cole says those are just the problems caused by the fracking chemicals that are well known. Many others are considered trade secrets.

When he spoke in Tampa Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden praised the spike in natural gas production by the United States during the last decade. Much of it happened because of increased fracking. Biden said compressed natural gas exports have helped the U.S. cut its trade deficit and improved the country’s national security. But when asked about Biden’s remarks, St. Pete City Council member Karl Nurse responded that the answer to energy challenges should instead be alternatives to fossil fuels.

“Last year two thirds of all additional power generation came from either solar or from wind. The price of wind power in this country has dropped by two thirds, in the last six years, and power use has actually peaked. And so, we’re already on a path that most people don’t see. Wind, energy efficiency and solar are making up dramatic leaps, in terms of energy use. And that’s really where America is going, even in spite of the fossil fuel industry kicking and screaming.”

Another blow to fracking could be new methane rules released Thursday by the Obama administration. Environment Florida’s Jennifer Rubiello says more regulation is needed, but the new rules are a good start.

“Today, the Obama administration has issued final rules controlling new oil and gas emissions of methane, which is the greenhouse gas that’s many times more potent than carbon dioxide. The methane rule is a step in the right direction but, it’s definitely not enough. The final rule limits methane leaks from some new and modified facilities only, not existing ones. And really, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we have to make deep cuts in all global warming pollutants, including methane.”

St. Pete’s ordinance to ban fracking and fracking wastewater could be passed as soon as next month. It will first be heard by the public service and infrastructure committee in the next three to four weeks.

Earlier this year the state legislature tried — but failed — to pass a bill that would fund a study of fracking and regulate it at the same time it would preempt local governments from passing fracking bans.

Here are more WMNF News stories on fracking.

Watch the press conference here:


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