The issue of shale gas has been an interest of mine these last several years. At first, I felt that domestic production of shale gas could be a viable alternative to American dependency on foreign hydrocarbons; until, I started reading on the topic and watched the outstanding picture Gasland. This documentary, winner of the Sundance Film Festical Special Jury Prize and nominee for Best documentary at the 2011 Oscars, is a good reminder of the need to question everything and wonder about the interests and the forces behind an issue as important as shale gas.
The controversy with shale gas is not about the gas per se, but around the techniques utilized for the drilling, called hydraufracturing, or commonly known as ‘fracking.’ The fracking process consists in pumping water down a well at high pressure to create microfissures in the rock that enable gas to flow. The element that is missing from the narratives of the major energy companies is that the water injected is blended with numerous chemicals. Once the gas is recovered and stocked, some of the mélange is collected and the rest goes into the waterways. The list of chemicals used for fracking remains outside the hands of the public, which is a problem in order to understand if there are any risks to the environment and public health.
So far, most of the debate on shale gas is taking place in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, and others large shale gas producing states. But I was wondering where does Florida stand on the matter? Is Florida producing shale gas and where? Let’s just start with the fact that research on this question is extremely difficult considering the scarcity of materials. One of the reasons is that Florida is not a major producer compared to Pennsylvania. As illustrated by the map, only the northwest part of Florida, by the border with Alabama, is on top of a shale basin.
The production of shale gas is quite controversial for several reasons: first, the Bush administration created a loophole, which is known as the ‘Halliburton loophole,’ inside the 1977 Clean Water Act (CWA). This loophole “allows fracking companies to inject toxic chemicals under the ground in huge quantities and not report it to the EPA.” As per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. This loophole has opened up doors to energy companies in the US with limited government oversights. This must change.
Second, the power – financial and influence on government – of the lobby groups and energy companies is so great that it distorts the facts influencing and misinforming citizens’ understanding of the matter.
Third, the environmental consequences are real: pollution of waterways (as illustrated by the map waterways are all interconnected); earthquakes have also been monitored in regions wherein fracking is at use. This has been the case in the North East of the US as well as in Britain. Since the monitoring of earthquakes, Britain has stopped the drilling and the production of shale gas until further research is done.
What is certain, it is not because Florida is not a major producer of shale gas that the public interests should be low. Several elements need to be done: first, one way to monitor and protect the environment will go through the empowering of the EPA. The Republican Party tends to see the EPA as the enemy. The EPA needs to maintain a federal strategy in order to better monitor and regulate. The repeated attacks against the EPA by the GOP candidates and established Republican politicians are not constructive. Marco Rubio, Florida Senator, has been one of them. Back in February 16, 2012, he declared during the introduction of The State Waters Partnership Act that “it’s time the EPA stops bullying us into accepting another Washington-contrived mandate that would devastate job creation.” The protection of the environmental cannot be tackled state-by-state, but only globally.
Second, the release of the list of chemicals by energy companies utilizing fracking should be done in order to assess the reality of the risks and threats on the environment and public health.“The empty excuses,” claimed by Josh Fox in the Guardian, “of the gas industry and the pro-fracking politicians who defend them just don’t hold water.”
Last, these narratives linking job creation to protection of environment are obsolete. This machiavellic assimilation, which has been recently used around the Keystone pipeline, is not only hurting a constructive/civilized debate, but is also affecting the discussion on finding alternative sources of energy such as solar, wind, and even sea power. Let’s face it, shale gas, oil, coal are all traditional sources of energy. This is not because the US is finally autonomous that the energy crisis is solved. No, the energy crisis is two-sided: economic and environmental.