Sarasota News Leader

01/31/2014

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But all of the environmental damage inflicted on our state in its past will pale in comparison to the befoulment that will ensue if the oil and gas drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing — known most commonly as "fracking" — is allowed in Florida. On the East Coast, Pennsylvania was the first state to be con- sidered for large-scale retrieval of natural gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale for- mation. Fracking is the technique employed to drill into that shale formation and break it up by the injection of a toxic brew of chem- icals and brine under high pressure, which releases the natural gas trapped in the shale. Before the oil and gas industry undertook extensive exploratory drilling into these shale formations, it had the Bush Administration, with the aid of long-time oilman Dick Cheney, carve out exemptions for the industry in several key environmental regulations, prin- cipally an exemption from the Clean Water Act for the process fluids it pumps into the ground to fracture the shale formations. In other words, the very laws that are meant to protect the environment and the people who depend on that environment do not apply to the oil and gas industry with regard to fracking. In Pennsylvania, many residents embraced the oil and gas industry with open arms, see- ing the large sums of money being offered as an economic boon for depressed areas of the state. Later, however, when drinking wells became polluted, spigots spouted copious methane gas that could ignite into an open flame, wildlife and livestock started dying off and residents became subject to a host of mysteri- ous physical ailments, the money residents had received seemed less significant. U n f o r t u n a t e l y, t h e industry had care- fully insulated itself, first by procuring the national regulatory exemptions from the Bush Administration and, second, by overwhelming the limited environmental capabilities of state regulators by swamping them with faux data supporting the safety of fracking. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working for several years to produce a comprehensive assessment of the safety (or lack thereof) of fracking. That report is expected sometime this year. However, anec- dotal evidence already is widespread in those areas where fracking has been carried out, illustrating the harmful effects of the process. Moreover, the oil and gas industry has learned from its earlier experiences with sick and angry residents. It has adopted a much more aggressive strategy, using its economic might to silence any detractors in an effort to sti- fle dissent. In fact, the industry was one of the first to implement a harsh legal strategy All of the environmental damage inflicted on our state in its past will pale in comparison to the befoulment that will ensue if the oil and gas drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing — known most commonly as "fracking" — is allowed in Florida. OPINION Sarasota News Leader January 31, 2014 Page 78

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