The fight to ban fracking in Florida is more than just an effort to preserve the especially vulnerable environment in the state. Florida’s economy thrives because of a robust tourism industry that is largely dependent on outdoor activities, most of them involving our precious water. Florida’s gorgeous beaches, it’s vacation destinations (like Orlando’s theme parks), and the extensive springs networks across Northern Florida are all now threatened by water-damaging industries like offshore drilling, massive new pipelines, and fracking oil rigs. It’s not just the quality of our air and water at risk. Or our health as Florida residents. It’s Florida’s reputation as the timeless paradise that millions dream about visiting from around the world.
Food & Water Watch has been building a movement against fracking and the oil industry alongside local activists, community leaders and residents that form the core of the Floridians Against Fracking coalition. We all came together to fight off the ubiquitous and insatiable energy industry. There is much more at stake in Florida than just local and community level fights; we need statewide action and solidarity in order to protect ourselves from dangerous threats that would have negative impacts for generations.
In 2013, after the discovery of unpermitted unconventional fracking operations by a Texas-based oil company in Collier County, the battle for a fracking ban lit up across the state. Since then, the anti-fracking movement has successfully mobilized four years worth of massive resistance against new fracking operations in the Everglades and the panhandle.
To date, 90 counties and cities had passed ordinances or resolutions in opposition to fracking in the state ( communities representing almost 75% of Florida residents). After three years of beating back pro-fracking legislation, this legislative session became the first where a bill to ban fracking was introduced with bipartisan support. By the end of session, over 150 businesses had also come forward in support of the ban.
Though the bill did not pass this year, it had almost 50 cosponsors, including powerful Republican leaders, in both chambers. Half the state senate members supported the ban bill until it stalled amidst wide ranging tension over other issues in the Florida legislature, including a bill that seeks to clean up the Everglades from massive discharges that periodically pollute the region.
Like a good Hollywood plot story line, the fracking industry tested our mettle and struck back at the end of session with yet another costly, environmentally harmful, corporate giveaway of a bill. Not only did the bill call for investing in fracking in Oklahoma, it also allowed energy utility companies to charge Florida customers for speculative out-of-state investments like the Oklahoma venture. Even though the risky plan had been ruled unconstitutional before and had already lost customers millions of dollars in years past, the oil industry tried to sneak it through once again. Anti-fracking advocates and good government watchdog organizations all united to oppose this special interest bill and won.
Although House Speaker Richard Corcoran stood up to the energy special interest cabal by killing the egregious pro-fracking bill, he failed to push the Florida fracking ban in his chamber. We need to change that. With another six months until next session, we expect his leadership, and others in the House chamber, to lead the fight to ban fracking next year. While the concept of republicans leading the way towards a fracking ban in a southern state like Florida may sound like a pie in the sky dream, it’s become abundantly clear now that a ban in possible.
In fact, all eyes are on fracking right now, especially as an opposition to the offshore drilling in Florida steadily increases. Amidst a new federal plan to open up the Florida coast to drilling, and potential Deepwater Horizon-like disasters, we know onshore drilling will continue being deeply opposed as well. Meanwhile two drilling permits, in Calhoun and Collier county, that could easily turn into fracking operations, are already being sought this year.
But let’s remember the most crucial part: Florida’s groundwater is the drinking water source for 90 percent of Florida residents and a key part of our tourism and agricultural-based economy. Potable aquifers lie under over 85% of the state and Floridians pump over 3 billion gallons per day from our aquifers. Our fight for a fracking ban is only more important and more urgent than ever. We’re coming back next session with a stronger and larger anti-fracking movement and we will pass a ban on fracking in Florida!