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Doctors, Bikers, Union Members Hope to Stop Fracking In Florida

Kate Payne/ WFSU

Environmental activists are sounding the alarm as a fracking bill continues to move through the Florida Legislature. Hundreds flocked to the Old Capitol Wednesday to raise their voices in protest.

Hundreds joined a rally Wednesday, calling for sustainable and renewable energy in the Sunshine state. For the mostly grey-haired crowd, a little protest singing suited them just fine.

“Everybody, y’all want to sing along? I know y’all know this one…Oh beautiful, for spacious skies….” they sang.

The crowd called for environmental protection, alternative energy and climate change awareness, but the central issue of the day is fracking. Senate Bill 318 would pave the way for fracking only after a study analyzes the high pressure drilling technique. Environmentalists hope to stop the legislation in its tracks.

“Ban fracking now! Ban fracking now! Can you hear us governor? Ban fracking now!” they chanted.

Fracking involves injecting a pressurized mix of chemicals deep underground to release oil or natural gas. Opponents of the practice say those chemicals contaminate groundwater, and are dangerous to drillers. Lynn Rigenberg is a pediatrician and president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Wearing the signature white coat of physicians, Ringenberg says fracking is a public health issue.

“There is no evidence that fracking can be done in a manner that does not threaten human health. So we don’t need another study, like Senate Bill 318 says, we don’t need to spend a million dollars to study this,” she said.

Rick Templin represents the AFL-CIO labor union, which opposes any fracking efforts in the state. Templin says this isn’t your average environmental issue.

“Now who passed this resolution? Tree hugging liberals? Absolutely not. 40% of the Florida AFL-CIO is made up of registered Republicans. The people supporting this position are construction workers, bus drivers, teachers, utility workers, communications workers, government employees, painters, law enforcement, fire fighters, you name it,” he said.

Credit Kate Payne/ WFSU
Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pennsylvania with Wakulla County Commissioner Howard Kessler.

Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pennsylvania proves Templin right. Clad in black leather, the biker brought his Harley to Wednesday’s rally. Brandishing a green-tinged bottle of water taken from his own tap, Kemble shared his personal experience.

“What’s in this water? There’s four grades of uranium, there’s three grades of fermium, four grades of lithium. And the list goes on. There’s 27 different chemicals in this water right now at my house,” he said.

Senator Darren Soto of Kissimmee wants a statewide ban on fracking. Leaving behind the conservation rhetoric, Soto says fracking will also threaten the bedrock of Florida’s economy: tourism.

"You look at a robust tourism industry of billions and billions of dollars. Why would we foolishly allow a multi-million dollar, high risk industry to form in our state, to risk a multi-billion dollar industry,"  he said.

The Democratic Senator filed legislation to ban fracking in Florida, but the bill has not yet had a hearing. The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up pro fracking Senate Bill 318 next week.