Rally calls for alternate solutions

Fracking is fast becoming a controversial topic in the oil and natural gas industries, and now, the Keys.

Hydraulic fracturing is a technique in which a liquid is injected under high pressure into a well in order to create tiny fissures in the rock deep beneath the earth, which then allow gas and oil to flow into the well. The word fracking was created by shortening fracturing.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the total amount of barrels of oil produced per day by U.S. fracking practices rose from 2 percent of the country’s oil output in 2000 to 50 percent in 2015.

However, some have voiced concerns regarding the impact that fracking could have on the geology of the Keys.

On April 1, a rally was held outside of State. Rep. Holly Raschein’s office to protest fracking in Florida. The rally brought together organizations like the Women’s March Florida Keys Chapter, Urban Paradise Guild, Middle Keys Action Network, Upper Keys Action Network, Food & Water Watch, and other concerned citizens.

“We, at the Upper Keys Action Network, feel compelled to raise our voices and the awareness of others in order to shine a light on the destructive practice of fracking in our state,” said Laura Bauman, who’s a part of the environmental team for Upper Keys Action Network and a biologist. “Florida, and especially the Keys, is very vulnerable to the widespread contamination of our precious drinking water aquifers and, thereby, our coral reef and Florida Bay habitats, due to the Swiss-cheese nature of our limestone bedrock.”

The consensus was that local ecosystems and industries rely heavily on the health of local waters that may be affected by fracking. The groups point to renewable energies, like solar power, as a preferred source of energy.

In a phone interview following the rally, Raschein, who chairs the Natural Resources and Public Lands Committee in the House of Representatives, expressed her personal opposition to fracking, but acknowledged arguments that have been made regarding private property rights.

“There doesn’t seem to be enough consensus for an all-out ban on fracking. House leadership is taking property rights very seriously, which is why Agriculture and Property Rights has become its own subcommittee this year,” said Raschein.

Last year’s proposed bill, H.B. 191, would have preempted to the state the ability to regulate fracking, and, in-turn, invalidated local bans that other counties or municipalities had passed. While the bill would have required the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study on the impact of fracking, and required disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fluids, it did not have a component that studied the impact on property rights.

The department’s Oil and Gas Programs oversees the permitting of oil and gas drilling, as well as protects the subsequent property rights of landowners through a series of permitting and inspections.

Raschein voted against last year’s fracking bill. The bill passed the House 73-45, but failed to pass in the Senate.

Raschein said House leadership is weary of any bill that may conflict with property rights, and would prefer legislation that is backed by some sort of peer-reviewed research study on those rights. Passing a bill that does not account for property rights may open the door to potential lawsuits.

Committee hearings are scheduled to begin in October. Raschein expects another bill regarding fracking.

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