Environment Florida Releases New Booklet of Personal Stories from Residents on the Frontlines of Fracking as EPA Hearing Nears

Media Contacts
Jennifer Rubiello

Environment Florida Research and Policy Center

TAMPA, Fla. — As the debate over fracking mounts in Florida, residents on the frontlines of fracking in Pennsylvania today recounted their stories of illness, water contamination, and damage to their livelihoods due to dirty drilling operations. Environment Florida Research & Policy Center released the residents’ Shalefield Stories as the latest evidence for rejecting fracking near the Everglades or anywhere in the Sunshine State.

Last year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection granted close to a dozen permits to oil and gas companies for exploratory oil wells in the panhandle and Collier County, just miles from the Everglades and in the Big Cypress National Preserve. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering the approval of a disposal well in the Big Cypress Swamp watershed, an area considered panther habitat, and near the future drinking water supplies for Collier County. The federal agency’s final decision awaits the recently confirmed public hearing near Naples on March 11th. 

Given Florida’s limestone geology, environmental groups and local citizens contend this could pave the way for acidizing, or acid fracking, a process involving the injection of toxic chemicals below the aquifer to dissolve and free up dirty fossil fuels.

“Behind the alarming numbers that outline fracking’s environmental impacts, there are real people whose lives have been gravely impacted by these polluting practices,” said Jennifer Rubiello, field associate with the Environment Florida Research & Policy Center. “These are their stories, and it is our responsibility to heed their words of warning on fracking.”

People recalling their experiences with fracking damage in Shalefield Stories include:

–    June Chappel of Washington County, Pa., who lived with a 15 million gallon fracking waste pit just 200 feet from her house; and

–    Judy Armstrong Stiles of Bradford County, Pa., who spoke of the barium and arsenic that was found in her drinking water, and then in her blood, after Chesapeake began drilling on her land.

While Shalefield Stories was compiled by individual residents in Pennsylvania, there have also been similar tragedies in other fracking states, including Colorado, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia.

“I can’t imagine that kind of nightmare happening to me, my kids, or even my neighbors,” said Karen Dwyer, who lives in Naples, near the area where the oil and gas industry is seeking to potentially bring acid fracking here in Florida. “The drill site we’re trying to stop is only 1000 feet from homes.  It’s located in the Big Cypress Swamp watershed, a critical recharge area, in the Everglades.”

“Each well is permitted to use 5 million gallons of water per month,” explained Dwyer. “Unlike agricultural water, the drilling water can never be reused; it is permanently polluted and must be injected into the boulder zone.  Given the worldwide water scarcity and the annual water restrictions in South Florida, it is criminal to permit the oil industry to destroy so much fresh water. Think of the effect of thousands of wells on this 115,000-acre parcel, and even more, when Collier develops all of its 800,000 acres of mineral rights.”

One of the common themes running through Shalefield Stories is how people have become sick living on the frontlines of fracking, including the wastewater produced from the drilling process. Randy Moyer began suffering from extreme migraines, kidney and liver problems, and burning rashes after starting work trucking wastewater from a fracking site in Cambria County, Pa.

“In view of the recent experience with a spill of chemicals contaminating the water supply for thousands of West Virginians, the thought of fracking or any use of acid to dissolve limestone without disclosing every single chemical to be used would seem especially foolhardy”, said Tallahassee physician Ray Bellamy. “Imagine hundreds of chemicals, many toxic, some carcinogenic or endocrine disrupters, being pumped into our porous limestone without our being able to know their identity. In the event of medical disorder, a physician would be unaware of what tests would be necessary or about contamination from odorless substances.”

On January 14th, State legislators approved a bill that would allow the oil and gas industry not to disclose fracking chemicals considered “trade secrets.”  Environment Florida and a host of other organizations opposed the measure.

Environment Florida Research & Policy Center released Shalefield Stories today, as the EPA considers whether to allow the toxic wastewater disposal well near local drinking water supplies and the neighboring wildlife refuge that is home to the endangered Florida Panther.

“For anyone who doubts the damage of dirty drilling, including acid fracking, all they have to do is look around to the nightmare unfolding in Pennsylvania. We have known this truth for some time. But now we are hearing it from the source, from the very people living on the frontlines of fracking,” concluded Rubiello. “We urge the EPA to reject the wastewater injection permit so we can swiftly close the door on acid fracking and any other form of dirty drilling here in Florida.”