Our Santa Fe River, Inc. has published a guest editorial in the Lake City Reporter today, Sunday, December 21, 2014, exposing the dangers associated with this form of oil and gas extraction. The new techniques of horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and “acidizing” oil-bearing limestone has resulted in renewed interest in Florida as a fossil fuel source, bringing with it the increased threat to our aquifer and atmosphere.
Continue reading here for the editorial. OSFR thanks Robert Bridges and the Lake City Reporter for publishing our opinion piece in their newspaper.
NEW INTEREST IN OIL & GAS EXPLORATION IN FLORIDA
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” is an oil drilling technique where sand, water and chemicals are injected deep into the ground under pressure in order to fracture the oil-bearing shale rock, allowing the oil to be extracted. This technique causes earthquakes and is prone to leaking methane gases into the atmosphere. It also leaves toxic chemicals in the earth and sometimes in the aquifer.
Fracking is normally done in shale rock, but in Florida, most of the oil and gas is found in loosely mineralized soils, requiring the need for “acid fracking,” or “acidizing,” employing the use of acids such as hydrofluoric acid (HF) or hydrochloric acids (HCI) to dissolve limestone, dolomite and calcite cement. Though this type of fracking has not been proven to be more harmful than hydraulic fracking, there is no such thing as safe fracking.
A recent study at Duke University found that 92 percent of water and drilling fluids remained deep underground. Are these substances that we want to inject into our groundwater or allow to be anywhere near our aquifer?
Typical fracking fluid is comprised of 99.5 percent water and sand. The remaining .5 percent (sounds small, but we are talking millions and millions of gallons) consists of chemicals, many of which are common and non-toxic, but a new study says that out of 81 common compounds used in fracking, there’s very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third of them. But some indeed, are well known carcinogens: benzene, toluene, xylene, methanol, lead, hydrogen fluoride, naphthalene, sulfuric acid, formaldehyde, crystalline silica.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Chief of Mining, Calvin Alvarez, says that fracking is not a “factor” in south Florida, and Ed Garrett, DEP Section Administrator, says that we don’t frack in Florida. And Ed Pollister, owner of Century Oil, says that fracking is inevitable, and that if he doesn’t do it, somebody else will.
But fracking has occurred in Florida: The DEP does have record of some wells being fracked, the last being in 2003, on the Panhandle. Plus, of course, the saga of Hughes Oil in Collier Co. in 2014, where they were shut down for “acid fracking” by the DEP, not because they were fracking, but for going beyond the one well the permit allowed and drilling another.
Under Florida law, fracking is allowed by the DEP. And the interest in this is recent: in the past five years there have been 39 drilling applications, and of these, 16 have been in the past year. Of the 39 applications, two were either incomplete or withdrawn; all the rest were granted. This recent surge of new interest in Florida is due mostly to the new extraction technology which makes it possible and profitable to exploit previously inaccessible pools of oil and gas.
When we think of the oil and gas industry, we usually don’t think of Florida because it is not a big oil producing state, but drilling began in 1901 and production started in 1943. There are operating wells sucking oil from the Sunniland Oil Trend in Collier, Henry, Lee and Dade Counties, and fewer, but some, in the Panhandle in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in what is known as Jay Field.
Most of the mineral rights in the Sunniland Trend are owned by Collier Resources. Their area includes 800,000 acres, approximately half of which are in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Much of these rights are leased by Los Angeles-based Breitburn Energy. Another investor in the area is the New Orleans company Sunrise Exploration & Production, who has leased 135,000 acres in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties.
The winds of public opinion may be shifting in Florida. In the recent off-year elections, the monumental, environmentally friendly Amendment 1 was approved by a landslide. The people spoke with a loud voice, saying they want to protect what is good and unique in Florida, our land and water.
Even more recently proposed SB166 was written to prohibit hydraulic fracturing in Florida. If passed, it would take effect in July 2015. Concurrent with the new bill, there are in Florida new committees being formed by pro-environment groups to bolster the anti-fracking sentiment. There is a state-wide effort to ban fracking at the local level through cities and counties. Municipalities are acting rather than just listening to their citizens.
The time is here to take an important step towards protecting what we cannot afford to lose. Our Santa Fe River, Inc. has been a leader in opposing the threat posed by the Sabal Trail pipeline project. We must take advantage of the opportunity that we have before us and we must encourage our law-makers to save Florida. The potential for mineral rights exploration in north and central Florida could easily destroy our aquifer and drinking water source.
Merrillee Malwitz -Jipson and Jim Tatum are both from Fort White. She is president of Our Santa Fe River, Inc., and he is historian.