Pinellas commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to hold a public hearing on a proposal to ban fracking in the county.
The public hearing would be the final step before the commission would vote whether to enact an embargo. Although commissioners were wholeheartedly for the fracking ban, some wondered if the prohibition goes far enough. They wondered if the county should also ban exploratory well drilling in the county and the portion of the Gulf that comes under their jurisdiction.
“I think there’s factual evidence that well drilling in and around Florida is bad,” Commissioner Janet Long said.
Fellow Commissioner Charlie Justice agreed, saying, “I don’t think you will get disagreement with that.”
But rather than combine the two into one ordinance and perhaps enactment of the fracking ban so that the well drilling prohibition could be included, commissioners decided to go ahead with the June 7 public hearing. A proposal to ban well drilling in Pinellas could come before them later.
The proposal to ban fracking brought praise from several environmental activists who attended the meeting.
“All across the country, fracking has been a nightmare,” said Jennifer Rubiello, director of Environment Florida.
Rubiello, like the other activists and commissioners, pointed out the dangers of fracking. Fracking is a method of extracting gas or oil from the ground by drilling into rocky substrate and using high-pressure water, sand and chemicals to break up the rock to release the gas and oil.
The process uses a lot of water, damages habitat, frees up toxic chemicals and can cause water, soil and air pollution, they said. Danger also comes from the wastewater generated by fracking, which can pollute groundwater and contaminate soil if it is spilled.
In other business, commissioner, acting as the Lealman Community Redevelopment Agency, passed a proposed plan for improving the area to a commission meeting and to other agencies for final comment before the proposal is adopted.
Once passed, the 44-page document will become the framework for future improvements in the unincorporated Lealman area. The proposal has eight areas of concentration: economic development and innovation, retail and business investment, improved housing stock, infrastructure and transportation, communitywide curb appeal and livability, sustainability, health and safety, and the creation of a sense of place.
It also lays out strategies for reaching those goals. Those plans include increasing the number of fire hydrants in the area, creating a feeling of place for the community, and using façade grants and other incentives to encourage the renovation and rehabilitation of deteriorating housing stock.