Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ban the Ban on Fracking

The faux environmentalists are at it again. Or still.

Rob Moher, head of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, replayed his familiar litany about the evils of Florida fracking in a recent Naples Daily News op-ed.

What was his message? Same old, same old. Most of it undocumented or just plain wrong. It's like a broken record.

First off, he worries about "the vision of huge offshore drilling rigs off our Gulf Coast," but apparently has no problem with the vision of huge wind farms off our Gulf Coast. The fact is it takes many more windmills to generate the same amount of power you get from one oil or gas rig. So for those of us who care about such things, there's far less visual pollution from one drilling rig than from 50 (or is it 100) massive wind turbines. And drilling rigs don't kill birds or disrupt shipping lanes. But as Al Gore would say, "Those are just inconvenient truths."

Moher goes on: "Yet, some may not know that fracking already has occurred in Florida." I assume he's talking about the Collier-Hogan well near Lake Trafford, the touchstone of local hysteria. That well, in fact, has never been fracked. It was acid treated in a procedure widely used to enhance oil recovery, particularly in carbonate formations. Let me say it again. The Collier-Hogan well was never fracked. And nothing bad happened there anyway. In spite of repeated attempts to find pollution, there has never been any evidence of aquifer contamination.

Here's more: "Fracking and fracking-like activities (aka advanced oil well stimulation treatments) pose an enormous risk to Florida's ecosystem and tourism industry." Who says? Where's the evidence?

There is evidence nutrient runoff poses an enormous risk to Florida's ecosystem and tourism industry. There's plenty of evidence for that. There's an immense problem in and around Lake Okeechobee. We see toxic algae blooms in our lakes and retention ponds every day. And how about high copper levels in Naples Bay? There's plenty of evidence for that. But it's much easier to pump hype about fracking than to do the hard work of fighting the real environmental problems.

Still more: "Well stimulation treatments use high volumes of freshwater mixed with toxic chemicals." Ah yes, those bad chemicals.

But let's understand that toxicity is a function of dose. A little salt flavors our food. A lot of salt contributes to hypertension. A little aspirin relieves pain. A lot of aspirin can cause abdominal bleeding. Drugs are never dispensed without specifying dose per unit of time.

The same applies to fracking. Chemicals are used in very small amounts to promote fluidity, suspend sand and control microbial growth. Then the chemicals are diluted further as the fracking fluid enters wet formations underground and diluted still further when recovered. In all phases of operation, they are present at very low, non-toxic levels. And here's another inconvenient truth. The great majority of chemicals used are safe even at high concentrations, many used in food products.

So unless you are making a political statement, you don't have to worry about fracking chemicals.

Nor do you have to worry about leakage from oil reservoirs thousands of feet down into aquifers hundreds of feet down. Nor do you have to worry about contamination from disposing used fluids. The technology has come a long way from its early days. Hydraulic fracturing is now routine, safe and non-polluting.

More from Moher: "South Florida's oil resources are of poor quality." I thought George Ahearn had put the lie to this. Unlike the wannabe experts in the Conservancy, Ahearn made his living in the petroleum industry and actually understands oil recovery and, certainly, oil quality. In any event, banning fracking because someone says it produces an inferior product is laughable.

Don't get me wrong. I think the Conservancy does good things. I'm a long-time member. But I do think the Conservancy, insular and often preaching to the choir, tends to believe in its own expertise, even when there is none. Its push to ban fracking in Florida based on cliches from a political playbook is scientifically inexcusable.

What should be done? A moratorium should be placed on all forms of enhanced recovery, not just fracking, until a study is carried out on the likely impact on water quality. The study should be based on Florida geology, not Pennsylvania or Texas geology, and it should be conducted by the agency responsible for environmental protection, the Florida DEP. Based on results from that study, the Florida legislature should impose tough statewide regulations.

This is not rocket science. But it is science. The Conservancy should accept no less.

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