Activists Dust Off Anti-Fracking Playbook in Attempt to Scare Floridians
A gathering of some of the most extreme and well-funded national and regional “ban fracking” groups will converge on Fort Myers this week for a “Florida Fracking Summit.” Judging from the event’s promotional materials, the activists are following the same playbook they have used elsewhere: go heavy on fearmongering and go light on facts.
This “Summit” comes as the subject of hydraulic fracturing is generating increasing interest in the Sunshine State, though as we have noted previously, there is currently no hydraulic fracturing happening in the state
The “Florida Fracking Summit”
Even though fracking is not occurring in Florida, it hasn’t stopped some local jurisdictions like Bonita Springs and Palm Beach County from “banning” the practice, with the former even going so far in its fear-based language that it effectively banned the drilling of water wells in the city.
The organizers of the “Fracking Florida Summit” apparently seek to capitalize on this kind of public – and policymaker – fear and misunderstanding. They are also not hindered by the facts. They write:
“The oil and gas industry is now using extreme oil extraction techniques in Florida involving the injection of chemicals and large amounts of freshwater to fracture or dissolve oil bearing rock to increase production. These operations include hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and acid stimulation…Currently, extreme extraction techniques are unstudied in Florida, virtually unregulated, and often used in complete secrecy.”
This paragraph is quite simply untrue. There is nothing “extreme” about hydraulic fracturing, which has been used routinely in the United States since the mid-1940s, and as noted above, has never been used to date to produce oil and gas in in Florida. The process has been extensively studied and it is heavily regulated at the federal, state and local levels. No oil or gas well can be drilled in Florida without a permit from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The usual suspects
Of course, those in Florida who are new to the anti-fracking movement will soon learn that this kind of fearmongering and dishonesty is par for the course for the cast of characters from national anti-fracking groups sponsoring and speaking at the two-day event.
- First, there is Earthworks, a fringe Washington, DC-based group that has called for a “war on fracking” nationwide as a first step in a “war on oil.” The group routinely issues “studies” that are designed to fool reporters into thinking they are scientific, rather than just anti-energy talking points with nice looking graphics. The group supported horizontal drilling because of its benefits to flora and fauna, and then scrubbed this support from its website when it realized that there is a lot of money in anti-fracking alarmism. Earthworks also helped to fund an illegal and expensive fracking ban in Denton, TX, by misleading its allies about the cost of such an effort by orders of magnitude.
Earthworks’ Texas organizer famously likened fracking to rape. That’s right: the group is so extreme that it has compared the technology that has created jobs and tax revenue, increased our energy security, and reduced our carbon emissions was compared to sexual violence. Earthworks, rather than distancing itself as quickly as possible from this comment, stood behind it. Caveat emptor.
- The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has consistently tried to pass off debunked reports as new information in its attempts to halt fracking across the country. For example, the NRDC recycled a claim related to the incidence of birth defects from a report by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health. This research was disavowed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which provided the state birth records used in the paper. The study that NRDC touts was so poorly researched, that the CDPHE demanded the inclusion of this disclaimer:
“CDPHE specifically disclaims responsibility for any analyses, interpretations, or conclusions.”
That NRDC did not take this serious rebuke into account because it contradicted its anti-industry narrative tells you something about NRDC’s fealty to facts. In fact, when EID reviewed and corrected a single “fact sheet” from the NRDC – involving the risk of water contamination from fracking – we found that “facts” were in short supply. The “corrected” fact sheet can be found here.
- Also on the roster is EarthJustice, an environmental law firm representing many of the most extreme activist groups and making no secret of its desire to ban not only fracking, but the development of all American energy resources:
“Every day we are fighting to keep fracking out of places where it doesn’t belong, working to protect people impacted by this dangerous practice, and challenging fracked oil and gas infrastructure projects that will lock us into a future dependent on fossil fuels.”
As we have pointed out previously, this characterization is nonsense. Not only is fracking not “dangerous” but it is responsible for the slashing of CO2 emissions to levels not seen since the early 1990s. Also, of course, renewable energy still requires fossil fuels and will for the foreseeable future, because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.
- Naturally, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is making an appearance. Environmentalists, as well as scientists and regulators, often criticize CBD for its extreme and counterproductive tactics. Kieran Suckling, the group’s founder, brags that he likes to conduct “psychological warfare” against environmental regulators and that CBD isn’t interested in science. CBD routinely misleads elected officials and gets caught misrepresenting important data.
In a devastating profile in The New Yorker entitled “No People Allowed,” the magazine noted:
“[I]f it keeps winning, the immediate impact will be on people. Settlements would be reduced, structures would be taken down, jobs would be lost. ‘We will have to inflict severe economic pain,’ [CBD co-founder] Robin Silver told me. ‘We’d like to see belly-high grass over millions of acres,” [CBD co-founder] Peter Gavin added. ‘We’d like to close thousands of miles of roads, and see a huge amount of retooling of local economies.’” (Emphases added)
“Suckling cheerfully admits that he’s ‘using one side of industrial society against itself,’ but only temporarily; in the long run, he says, there would be a new order in which plants and animals are part of the polity. For example, legal proceedings could be conducted outdoors – in which case ‘the trees will make themselves felt.’”
This is how CBD talks, on-the-record, with perhaps the most influential periodical in the United States. Floridians may want to think twice about getting their factual information about responsible oil and gas development from a group that wants to make Banyan trees and alligators “part of the polity.”
- Helping to bring this cohort to Florida locally is the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. The group has been active in opposing fracking based on misinformation similar to what is spread by the groups above. This allows the Conservancy to write on its website:
“Current oil and gas laws allow hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, and other chemical treatments, which present a risk to our water supplies, to be done in an essentially unregulated manner without a permit…These techniques are being allowed to continue in Florida despite of a lack of knowledge regarding the associated risks. It is irresponsible to allow hydraulic fracturing, or any other chemical treatment, to continue without study.”
Surely the Conservancy is familiar with the extensive peer-reviewed literature that demonstrates the fundamental safety of fracking? Surely the group doesn’t believe that oil and gas development is an unregulated activity? Energy production in Florida is like energy production anywhere else – and scientists have understood not only hydraulic fracturing but the entire energy development process for decades. The increased interest in the technology, generated by activist misinformation, has led to many recent studies – including a recent 1,000 page EPA Groundwater Study — confirming that fracking is both safe and environmentally beneficial. Finally, of course, the Conservancy must be aware that there are two bills making their way through the Florida legislature to complement existing regulations.
Many of the speakers for the Summit are coming from places like California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Washington, D.C. They are even coming from New York, where there is an ill-informed ban on fracking based on studies that threw the peer-review process under the bus. Meanwhile, New York continues to import clean-burning natural gas into the state, while touting its climate benefits.
A glance at the Summit’s agenda makes clear that the intent of the conference will be to scare attendees, not to educate them about the realities of oil and gas development in Florida. Attendees, and journalists, should be sure to ask the organizers about the scientific facts that contradict their rhetoric. Below is a preview of what is on the agenda and what attendees are likely to hear – and not hear.
- Unconventional oil and gas development – Development is all “conventional” in Florida but, as noted above, even if fracking was taking place, it would be done safely under strict federal and state regulation as it has for almost 70 years.
- Air emissions – Attendees may not learn that EPA data show air emissions are decreasing as oil and natural gas development has increased across the country.
- Florida geology and hydrology – Florida’s geology has allowed for a decades’ long history of safe and responsible oil development in permeable (and unfracked) formations.
- Potential water resource risks – Activists will likely ignore the fact that EPA recently released its five-year study that found hydraulic fracturing has “not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.”
- Potential public health risks – This section will probably be littered with studies that actually found no causation between fracking and health impacts despite media headlines to the contrary.
- Risks to wildlife – Perhaps organizers will mention how pipelines have been transformed into animal feeder grounds in Pennsylvania and Ohio, or that directional and horizontal drilling leads to fewer impacts on the ecosystem (something Earthworks once even acknowledged.) They might also note that the Audubon Society once said “We can’t find any specific significant environmental damage” from Florida’s oil and gas industry. We’re just kidding. They won’t.
Just as there is a proud tradition of responsible energy development in Florida, there is a proud tradition of environmental activism. All Floridians want to ensure that they breathe clean air and drink clean water.
Moreover, it is certainly understandable for like-minded people to gather and expand their understanding of a topic and work to impact public policy based on their shared beliefs. But all Floridians should be alarmed when out-of-state activists with a track record of dishonesty gather not to educate, but to expand a political campaign based on anti-scientific talking points.
What Florida deserves is a sober and science-based discussion of the appropriate public policy to guide Florida’s energy future, not another state chapter for the extreme “ban fracking” movement.