Part I of this series discussed the misinformation being circulated in Florida by anti-fracking activists like Floridians Against Fracking (FAF) regarding the potential impacts of fracking on groundwater, air quality and public health. In Part II, we’ll take a closer look at their claims surrounding possible impacts to habitats from land clearing, the potential for earthquakes and negative impacts to Florida’s tourism industry.
It is once again important to note that while fracking has been a routine activity in many parts of the country for more than 60 years it is not currently being used in the Sunshine State, where the oil and gas industry has been safely operating for decades.
Let’s dive into some more of FAF’s claims and compare them to the facts.
CLAIM: Fracking negatively impacts habitats by clearing large tracts of land for operations.
FAF: Fracking causes environmental disturbances due to land clearing and drilling.
FACT: FAF suggests fracking in Florida would have an unprecedented impact on habitats in the state — as if the development of natural resources in Florida is a seemingly unchartered and dangerous prospect. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Florida has been responsibly developing its oil, and to a lesser extent natural gas, since the 1940’s.
In fact, even though Florida’s wells aren’t typically considered part of the modern, unconventional shale plays often associated with fracking, they do have some similarities. For instance, Florida’s oil and gas industry is well ahead of the game when it comes to decreasing its environmental footprint by using directional or horizontal drilling on most of its wells.
Florida producers have been using horizontal drilling techniques in the Sunniland formation for nearly 20 years. Directional drilling allows producers to drill multiple wellbores from one location or pad instead of drilling vertical wellbores from multiple locations, greatly limiting the amount of land needed for an operation and the traffic and impact on flora and fauna that is inherent with any human activity.
“The benefits of directional drilling are numerous. Using these techniques, companies can drill a number of wells in different directions from one well pad (multilateral wells), which can decrease overall surface disturbance by reducing the number of well pads required to drain an oil or gas field.”
What’s more, the industry has been successful in developing its natural resources in places like Big Cypress Natural Preserve (BCNP) without having detrimental impacts to the unique habitats there. BCNP has been home to energy production since 1972. Alongside hundreds of plants and animal species, BCNP is also home to 40 oil wells, or approximately 24 percent of the state’s oil wells.
Clearly, energy production in this region has been conducted for quite some time with little impact on the preserve’s habitat. And this would be true even if fracking did occur, as a report released last June by the West Energy Alliance and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming found “modern oil and natural gas operations result in a nearly 70% reduction in disturbance.”
New drilling practices allow energy companies and conservation groups to work together to determine well pad-density standards in order to reduce environmental disturbances to an acceptable level. As the report states:
“Companies are now able to do more with less, minimizing impacts on species and the landscapes they depend upon. Wildlife is truly gaining ground.”
This is true in Florida and in other parts of the country as well.
CLAIM: Fracking causes earthquakes.
FAF: Studies show that fracking of rock increases seismic activity.
FACT: Earthquakes (“induced seismicity”) and whether or not a link to fracking exists, is a subject that has been carefully studied by scientists, geologists and government agencies.
- Stanford geophysicist Mark Zoback explained in a recent YouTube video, quite bluntly, that an overwhelming majority of Oklahoma’s induced seismicity: “… is not caused by the hydraulic fracturing process at all.”
- Former Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Hayes has said: “We also find that there is no evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing itself is the cause of the increased rate of earthquakes.”
- University of Texas at Austin Geophysicist Cliff Frohlich has said: “Although there is a considerable amount of hydraulic fracturing activity in the Eagle Ford, we don’t see a strong signal associated with that and earthquakes.”
- A 2012 Inglewood, California oilfield study concluded: “High-volume hydraulic fracturing…had no detectable effects on vibration, and did not induce seismicity (earthquakes).”
- The National Research Council – part of the prestigious National Academies —has similarly found: “The process of hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.”
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has also addressed this issue extensively, explaining:
“USGS’s studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only very rarely the direct cause of felt earthquakes. While hydraulic fracturing works by making thousands of extremely small ‘microearthquakes,’ they are, with just a few exceptions, too small to be felt; none have been large enough to cause structural damage.” (emphasis added)
In 2015, USGS followed that statement up with a list of six facts to know about earthquakes and fracking, where the agency cut straight to the point on both fracking and injection wells:
“In the United States, fracking is not causing most of the induced earthquakes. Wastewater disposal is the primary cause of the recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States.
“Most injection wells do not trigger felt earthquakes.”
So, no — fracking is not causing earthquakes across the country, and it is highly unlikely the practice would result in any seismic activity in Florida. There are some existing injection wells in Florida and they are not causing any seismic activity. It is very unlikely they will suddenly begin to do so.
CLAIM: Fracking negatively impacts the economy, especially the tourism industry.
FAF: Our state is dependent on tourism as an economic driver. Allowing drilling on our lands puts our economy at risk too.
Facts: Florida’s energy and tourism industries have coexisted happily for more than 70 years, without negative impacts on the tourism industry. Walt Disney World — the most visited vacation resort in the world — was founded in 1971. That’s 30 years after Florida began drilling for oil and gas.
Tourism and energy production are both critical to Florida’s diverse economy. They both provide the state with billions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of thousands of citizens with jobs. So, FAF’s claim that “allowing drilling on our lands puts our economy at risk…” doesn’t make sense. Two economically beneficial sectors help lift all boats.
“Energy development can directly promote the amenity sector by providing counties the funding necessary to develop and market available amenities. Together, these two sectors can comprise an integral part of a county’s economy. Though some research promotes one type of development as preferable to another, a more nuanced reading of the literature suggests that counties that try to balance energy extraction activities and amenity development have healthier economies.” (p.7)
For instance, in Washington County, Pa. — the second most drilled county in Pennsylvania — shale development and tourism have coexisted in harmony for more than a decade. Both bring in massive economic growth for the county, as noted by Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober:
“The numerous tourism attractions, as well as business conducted by the energy industry, were responsible for generating $754.7 million in direct visitor spending in 2013, and supported 5,957 jobs.”
The study also mentions a few additional counties across the country:
“For example, Bradford County in Pennsylvania, Moffat County in Colorado, and McKenzie County in North Dakota all use tax revenues related to the energy extraction industry to fund projects such as museum renovations, maintenance of recreational paths, and historic associations. …In other counties (e.g., Monterey County and Bradford County), payments to land owners have allowed farmers and ranchers to keep their land and their lifestyle. The economic growth resulting from extractive industries allows counties to diversify their economic portfolios that include both energy extraction and the development of amenities.”
Would fracking change the current relationship of Florida’s energy and tourism industries? If other plays and Florida’s own history are any indicator, it would only help for the better.
Activists like FAF are flooding Florida with misinformation about fracking, and in doing so, falsely characterizing an industry that has safely operated in the state for decades. But arming people with fear, rather than facts, is counterproductive in the effort to craft a sensible, science-based energy policy for Florida that protects our environment and creates jobs and economic growth that benefit all Floridians.