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Columbia County Observer

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Fracking Reso's & Ordinances Don't Belong In Front of the County Commission

Posted February 6, 2015  04:30 am | Op-Ed

Our water resources must be protected and conserved. This includes protecting sources of water from degradation and contamination.

A request has been made to the county to pass a resolution or ordinance opposing hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking", as a means of extracting oil or gas in Columbia County or anywhere else in Florida. I support the rights of citizens to bring such matters before the County Commission.  However, in consideration of these matters, the county needs to exercise due diligence with respect to the facts and needs to act within its authority authorized by law.

Oil and gas permitting within the state of Florida is via the Oil and Gas Program within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the same agency that protects our water resources. Their authority is established by Florida Statute 377 and the Florida Administrative Code.

While the FL DEP is responsible for permitting and overall regulations, each permit application is circulated through a variety of agencies including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local Water Management Districts, and the U.S. EPA among others.  Other agencies and local governments may be involved in the review process where appropriate.   

It is inappropriate and, per Florida Statute 377, outside county jurisdiction for the county government to consider resolutions, ordinances or regulations pertaining to oil and gas, particularly when there are so many pressing county issues needing your attention. 

Let's talk about banning a process vs. improved and persistent oversight of a process via FL Statute 377.

Because of appropriate pressure from citizens and government, oil and gas processes continue to become more environmentally sound. Passing a blanket ordinance or resolution about a particular technology knowing there is low probability of the use of that technology within the county carries the risk of adverse unintended consequences to the county and its citizens.

You may regret passage if, later, somebody comes along with a perfectly acceptable version of the technology.  Rather than banning a process, work with the FL DEP to improve and strengthen the law and regulations overseeing oil and gas. This will insure practical, enforceable safeguards are in place for our water resources.

Furthermore, consider this, paraphrasing from an article on the Energy in Depth web site:

President Obama's U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has offered a sharp rebuke for local, regional and statewide bans on hydraulic fracturing in comments made to Northern California NPR. Citing the regulatory confusion created by a patchwork of local and regional bans and her belief that fears associated with hydraulic fracturing are not founded in “sound science,” Jewell stated “I would say that is the wrong way to go.”

Jewell, who has previously stated that hydraulic fracturing “has been done safely for decades,” also specifically addressed New York’s recent permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing. Citing misinformation and a lack of understanding of the science behind the process, Jewell did not mince words on where she stands on the state’s course of action:  “There is a lot of misinformation about fracking,” Jewell said of New York’s decision last month to ban fracking. “I think that localized efforts or statewide efforts in many cases don’t understand the science behind it, and I think there needs to be more science.”

Before you spend the commission's valuable time and the taxpayer's money on ordinances and resolutions of little actual value to the conservation and safety of our precious water, I urge you to familiarize yourself with the FL DEP permitting and oversight process. Please avoid the regulatory confusion created by a patchwork of local and regional bans.  Help safeguard our water resources by working with the FL DEP.

This topic boils down to a question of appropriate priorities for the county to pursue. With other pressing issues needing the County Commission's time and the taxpayer's money, consideration of these blanket ordinances or resolutions is an inappropriate use of each.

Lane Watkins is a resident of Lake City, Florida

Mr. Watkins remarks were presented to the Columbia County Commission.
Photo: Columbia County Observer

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