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Pinellas County moves to ban fracking

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Pinellas County Commissioners are poised not only to prohibit fracking in the county but also to penalize drilling companies that violate the ban.

If commissioners give the proposal tentative approval at Tuesday’s meeting, the ban would likely come before them at a June 7 public hearing.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said the issue of fracking — a method of drilling into the ground to get oil and gas from the rocky substrate — has been talked about by commissioners for the past couple of years. The concerns included the possible pollution by toxic chemicals used in the process should they get into the groundwater or the air.

Originally, Long said, the thought that fracking needed to be banned seemed “laughable” because “we’re not going to have fracking in Florida.”

That proved to be wrong as drilling companies moved into the state and in the recently ended Legislative session, a bill was introduced that not only would have allowed fracking but also would have prevented cities and counties from banning it.

“It didn’t turn out to be so laughable,” Long said. The commission wants to “try to ensure the welfare of our beautiful little paradise here.”

Fellow Commissioner Ken Welch agreed that fracking has no place in Pinellas: “It’s absolutely wrong that we would have fracking in Pinellas County.”

Under the proposed anti-fracking ordinance, the practice would be banned in Pinellas although cities could opt out of the prohibition if they wanted. Violators would be liable for, among other things, a fine of up to $10,000 for each offense. Each day fracking occurred would be considered an independent offense.

The county would also have the option to force an offender to reimburse Pinellas for the cost of remediation and removal of the contaminated soil or water.

If the ordinance passes, the county will become the second Pinellas government to take a stand against fracking. The St. Petersburg City Council has proposed banning the practice within the city limits.

Long agreed that the Pinellas proposal is not unique to the state. Other counties have already passed resolutions or ordinances banning the practice. Among those are Brevard, Broward, Seminole, Volusia and Wakulla counties.

The news that Pinellas County is moving to ban fracking comes on the eve of “Hands Across the Sand,” a worldwide event designed to draw attention to the need for clean energy and a way to say no to “filthy fuels.”

Three of the 83 global events planned are in Pinellas County. One is in Tarpon Springs, another in Indian Rocks Beach and a third on Treasure Island.

Local, state and federal officials, business owners and activists from across Pinellas have indicated they plan to attend the Treasure Island event, which includes a living art display. Internationally renowned aerial artist John Quigley will design and help create a human sun with up to 300 people on the beach behind the Bilmar Beach Resort, 10650 Gulf Blvd. The sun, with “100 percent” inside, symbolizes the need for transitioning away from dirty fossil fuels like coal and gas and toward 100 percent clean energy like solar power. Creation of the human art is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m.

Welch said he planned to be at the Treasure Island event. He was at the first Hands Across the Sand about six years ago and says the issues are just as important now as they were then.

“There’s some short memories in Congress, and perhaps our Legislature, who forget the impact of even an oil spill” in the Gulf and the Tampa Bay area, he said. Yet, the issues of near drilling, fracking and other environmentally dangerous practices keep cropping up.

“It’s still a vitally important issue,” Welch said. “We don’t want people to forget.”

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