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St. Petersburg looks to ‘quickly pass’ anti-fracking ordinance

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Three St. Petersburg lawmakers stood with Environment Florida and others Thursday to oppose fracking during a news conference on the steps of City Hall.

The event, attended by City Council members Steve Kornell, Darden Rice and Karl Nurse, also served to call attention to an upcoming ordinance designed to ban fracking and the storage of fracking wastewater within the St. Petersburg city limits. Kornell, one of the driving forces behind the proposal, said he expects it to come before the St. Petersburg council in June.

“When the ordinance is ready,” Kornell said, “we’re going to pass it and pass it quickly.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of drilling into the earth until a stone layer is reached. A high-pressure mixture of water, sand and other chemicals are then injected into the well to fracture the rock so natural gas can be extracted.

Opponents say fracking causes damage to land, water, climate, animals and humans from the toxic chemicals that are used. Among the specific harms cited by Environment Florida and other anti-fracking activists are threats to drinking water should the chemicals bleed into the water supply or otherwise escape from wastewater storage sites. Those chemicals include hydrochloric acid, methane, benzene and other toxic substances. Many of those chemicals are linked to diseases such as cancer and developmental problems.

Kornell agreed that fears for the purity of the area’s drinking water were a concern driving the proposal. So is the health of Tampa Bay.

If the bay is contaminated, Kornell said, St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay area and the state are in real trouble. Not only would that affect Florida residents, but it would also kill off tourism, one of the mainstays of the state’s economy. Contaminated groundwater, he said, would also kill off one of the other pillars of the Florida economy – agriculture.

The idea that it’s safe to store fracking wastewater is wrong. There’s too much possibility that the storage pond would fail, whether it’s a flaw in the design or from one of Florida’s many tropical storms or hurricanes, he said.

Rice conceded the ordinance is largely symbolic because it’s unlikely that any fracking or storage of fracking wastewater would occur in the city limits. But, she pointed out, fracking was considered unthinkable in Florida a few years ago. Yet it’s happening.

And the stance, she said, is important because it shows leadership and solidarity with cities and counties that are faced with the prospect of fracking within their limits.

“There’s too many unknowns and too much risk,” Rice said. “Clean water is a right. It’s a human need. We need it to survive.”

Since fracking moved into the state, more than 80 cities and counties have passed resolutions opposing it. That was enough to kill a fracking bill that was proposed in the most recent Legislative session. But Rice predicted the issue would return because of “politicians bought and sold who promised they would bring it back. That’s why we’ve got to stand up and fight it.”

Kornell said it would be “foolish” for the state to allow fracking. But, he acknowledged the state might push back against the St. Petersburg ordinance by pre-empting it.

Pre-emption means the state would override St. Petersburg’s ban on fracking and the storage of fracking wastewater. Pre-emption, Kornell said, would also be “foolish,” but the city is hoping the state will leave the ordinance standing.

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