Through organizing rallies, letter writing, calling, lobbying and bird-dogging, our team has continued its spirited fight against the fracking industry in order to protect the water and health of all Floridians.
Banning fracking is a vital move for protecting the health and safety of Florida communities. Groundwater contamination is a serious risk posed by fracking -- and recent evidence shows cancer clusters concentrated around heavily-fracked areas of the country. Though Florida is not a state known for its seismic activity, the Panhandle has become an earthquake hotspot -- at one point there were nine earthquakes in a two-week period not far from where fracking operations are taking place just over the border in Alabama (earthquakes are known to result from the displacement of bedrock through fracking). Our research team also found that, in the past four years, there has been an average of nine oil spills per year in the state.
Altogether, 90 Florida localities have already passed measures banning fracking or opposing pro-fracking legislation, but currently, there are no state laws around fracking. There are 57 active oil wells in Florida and there’s nothing stopping Big Oil from fracking them. A statewide ban is the only way to protect all Floridians. Fracking anywhere in Florida is fracking everywhere in Florida.
Politically, Floridians are united across party lines in their support of a fracking ban, but getting a ban implemented requires more than just widespread support. We knew the 2018 gubernatorial election was the perfect place to strategically highlight Florida communities’ calls for a fracking ban. Thanks to some committed bird-dogging by our organizers and volunteers, we were in a splendid place heading into election day: every single candidate for governor had agreed to issue a statewide fracking ban were they to take office. It is encouraging to us that we’ve reached a point where it would be unthinkable to run a gubernatorial campaign without that commitment. However, in the end, it’s about follow-through.
Governor DeSantis promised a statewide fracking ban on day one of his term. What we got was… not quite that. Instead, DeSantis issued an executive order that urged the Department of Environmental Protection oppose hydraulic fracturing. What happened to DeSantis’ campaign trail promise of an outright ban?
Both the State House and Senate introduced committee bills that banned fracking statewide -- with one major caveat. These bills excluded a type of fracking called matrix acidizing, in which acid is injected into wells to penetrate rock pores in order to extract oil and gas. However, the bills’ sponsors claimed matrix acidizing wasn’t really fracking since it is not a procedure that uses high pressure.
At this point, we were forced to pivot quickly to oppose this (only partial) ban, which we felt was incomplete. Ironically enough, our opposition put us on the side of industry -- though we opposed it for very different reasons. Industry felt the bills were too stringent, while we feel that, when it comes to the health and safety of Florida communities, these bans did not provide nearly enough safeguards.
Though both the House and Senate had the votes to move this partial ban to the floor, state leaders ended up playing a game of political chicken rather than pushing forward even this incomplete ban. Both houses of the state legislature claimed they were waiting for the go-ahead from the other. In the end, the bills never made it to their respective floors for a vote.
But this is not the same as being back at square one. Though the progress we’d hoped for this past session was slowed by technicalities, we know that there is bipartisan support for a statewide fracking ban. We know that the issue has a major coalition of environmental, health, and community groups behind it. And we know, most of all, that now is no time to give up.
It comes down to one thing: will DeSantis keep the promise he made during his campaign? A single swift move and he could issue the fracking ban as an executive order to be implemented as a policy by the DEP -- not a suggestion, but a mandate. He can bypass legislative roadblocks with a single signature. If he refuses to keep the promise he made to Florida’s communities on the campaign trail, well, that says something pretty disturbing about his character -- and it means something pretty disturbing for Florida’s future.