Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Julie Dermansky at 6 Flags in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina

"Fracking in Florida" with Julie Dermansky

This was a special broadcast on American Freedom Radio on November 21, 2015. 

Julie Dermansky is my returning guest on this show; she is an artist, multimedia expert and photojournalist. Her stories and photographs have been published on such news outlets as TruthoutDeSmogBlog and Alternet just to name a few. And of course, I repost her work on Challenging the Rhetoric and Hoodooed.

She and I got together last week on the phone and we had a long conversation about some of the legalities of Fracking in Florida, the fragile locations (contiguous to the Everglades and the last Florida Panther preserve), the ongoing threats of land grabs, the environment, the state's precious water, the Indigenous people's way of life, the wildlife and what she has documented during her investigations. 

We also discussed the River of Grass Greenway which threatens to destroy the Everglades. We briefly touched on the planned Sabal Trail Natural Gas Pipeline that will extend from Alabama, through southern Georgia and intersect the center of Florida down to the Green Swamp and Orlando areas. A pipeline accident here could potentially threaten most of Tampa's drinking water, the largest metro area in the state.

This story is meant to be heard! 
Thanks for tuning in--be sure to check out the source information (hyperlinked) and share!

REMEMBER, it is just a conversation!

Websites we mentioned:

(There is an approximate 2 minute gap in the audio due to a technical problem that occurred while we were recording; this is between 42 and 44 minutes.)


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Support Strengthens to Stop Oil and Gas Development to Keep Florida’s Everglades Wild

Julie Dermansky
Betty Osceola, a member of the Miccosukee tribe and Panther clan, has made it her mission to protect the Everglades. The 49-year-old grandmother, who operates an airboat tour company in the Everglades, plans to spend the rest of her life protecting the land of her ancestors for future generations. 
Despite millions of dollars spent on conservation in recent years, the Everglades is still threatened by factors including, pollution, invasive species, salt water intrusion, and the ongoing development of South Florida that continues to encroach on indigenous lands.
Yet of all the threats, Osceola sees a proposed bike path that would cut through the Everglades as the most important threat to stop – and she is not alone. 
Osceola is part of a growing coalition of Indian tribes, environmental groups, and concerned citizens who are fighting the creation of The River of Grass Greenway (ROGG), a bike path that would connect Naples to Miami. Stopping the bike path is a move to keep what is still wild in the Everglades, wild.

Betty Osceola on an airboat in the Everglades. © 2015 Julie Dermansky

Alligator in the Everglades. © 2015 Julie Dermansky
The ROGG was designed to be built along U.S. Route 41, one of two roads that cross through the Everglades. The path, if created, would be a multi-purpose 76-mile-long, 12 to 16 foot wide road that would include restroom facilities and additional loop paths that cut into the Everglades. 
Construction of the new path would cut through seven national and state parks, two native reservations, and a World Heritage Site.

Swamp along Turner River in the Big Cypress National Preserve. © 2015 Julie Dermansky 

Deer on the side of U.S. Route 41. © 2015 Julie Dermansky 
The coalition’s objections against the project include further destruction of the wetlands, disruption of vital watersheds, fragmentation of critical habitat for endangered species, the further commercialization of the Everglades, encroachment on indigenous land, and desecration of burial grounds.

Python captured in the Everglades, at the Skunk Ape Nature Reserve & Research Center in Ochopee on U.S. Route 41. © 2015 Julie Dermansky 
Some also fear that the pathway could potentially open the floodgate to new oil drilling and fracking because the design plans leave open the possibility of incorporating other elements that could include power lines or even pipelines.

Pipeline in the Everglades. © 2015 Julie Dermansky
The bike path is an example of greenwashing at its worst,” Osceola told DeSmog during an airboat tour in the wetlands. “It is being sold as a project to promote stewardship, help conservation, and help Everglades restoration,” but she and others against the project believe it will do the opposite. 
There is no need for anything new,” Osceola said. “Cutting trees to build a road isn’t green. The greenest thing would be to use the bike paths we have already,” she said.
VIDEO: Betty Osceola on Environmental Issues Facing the Everglades
The Miccosukee tribe issued an official comment letter against the ROGG draft plan that includes a list of federal acts it alleges it breaks, including skipping initial tribal consultation before commissioning the feasibility study.
There are now over 400 miles of paved and unpaved trails for hiking and biking already throughout the Everglades, according to a Sierra Club Calusa Group ROGG letter opposing the project signed by dozens of concerned citizens and local business owners located along the route of the proposed bike path.
Since writing the letter, after further analysis we realized the number of existing trails could be over 800,” John Scott, Chairman of the Sierra Club Calusa Group told DeSmog.
Damage caused by building existing paths was done and paid for decades ago, the letters states, and asking taxpayers to pay the bill for this $140 million project plus maintenance at a rate of $7,500 per mile per year, doesn’t make sense. 
The letter concludes, “This project is an unnecessary use of public funds while community benefits are minimal and dubious in value.”
Among other problems the new path will create, the letter argues that the new path will make conditions for those who useU.S. Route 41 more dangerous. The bike path would eliminate existing shoulder space where locals traditionally stop and fish. 
The River of Grass Draft Feasibility Study and Master Plan, released in May by the National Park Service, prepared by AECOMTechnical Services, identifies more than 20 wildlife species that could be affected by the ROGG, including the endangered Florida panther.
According to the Miami-Dade County Parks Department, the final feasibility study, paid for with a $1 million federal grant, will be released by January 2016.
As a decision on the project looms seven years after it was initiated, the ROGG is losing support.
The Naples Pathway Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for safe roads for bicyclists and pedestrians that originally proposed the project in 2006, withdrew its support. Though the group has not condemned the ROGG, Beth Brainard, the coalition's executive director, told  Broward Palm Beach New Times, that the organization feels its resources are better spent working on other projects. 
The Miami Dade Government has a page on its website about the plans for the ROGG that is arguably an endorsement – it doesn’t mention any potential negative outcomes.
DeSmog asked whether the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Dept. supported the bike path.  Mark A. Heinicke, senior park planner and project manager for the ROGG, didn’t answer the question. Instead, Heinicke referred DeSmog to an advocacy group called Friends of the River of Grass Greenway (FROGG) to get more information, and sent a list of “quick facts” about the project that states: “No decision has been made to move forward on this project at this time.”
Maria I. Nardi, chief of Planning and Design Excellence with the parks department would not indicate one way or the other where the department stands. She wrote in an email: “The Parks Department is simply facilitating the Feasibility Study, various path options have been presented, and Federal agencies are responsible for making a final decision on the project.“
Osceola sees the Parks Department’s lack of commitment as a sign the tide is turning against the project.
However, even without the path, the Everglades is still under constant threat. “Today’s Everglades cannot sustain human life in the way it did for our ancestors,” Osceola said. “Now to exist here, you have to bring in food and water. People have been advised not to eat more than one meal of fish caught in the Everglades a week due to the high level of phosphate and mercury pollution.”
Another threat is the expansion of drilling in the Everglades. Oil extraction is already taking place at the Raccoon Point oil fields, inside the Big Cypress National Preserve. 
When learning about the project proposal, the word “collocate” made Osceola and others question if the bike path isn’t just a way to get taxpayers to cover needed infrastructure to expand oil and gas operations. 
The Parks Department did not comment on what potential elements could be collocated with the ROGG. However, the department has previously claimed: “No part of this study is intended to promote development nor does it in any way analyze or allow for oil or gas exploration.”
But opponents of the project believe companies could stand to benefit by gaining access to the environmentally sensitive areas. Osceola and Scott wouldn’t be surprised at all if Raccoon Point is able to benefit from the building of the ROGG in some way.
Currently under consideration is a proposal by Burnett Oil Company to seismically test 70,454 acres in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Seismic testing is done to determine if recoverable oil exists. 
And last year the Dan A. Hughes Company was caught fracking without permission in Naples. The public outcry against the frack job resulted in a local ban against fracking in Bonita Springs, and a bill co-sponsored by Democratic State Senators Dwight Bullard and Darren Soto to ban fracking statewide. But fracking and other forms of well stimulation in the Everglades remains a possibility. 
VIDEO: Senator Dwight Bullard on Fracking Ban in Florida 
At a public meeting in Naples ahead of the 2016 legislative session, the public had a chance to comment on new bills dealing with the fracking industry. Republican Congressman Curt Clawson took the floor and thanked those at the meeting for the service they were providing to the state. 
He reluctantly talked with DeSmog after he stepped out of the meeting. “I am not a big fan of drilling in the Gulf and we are on the record with that,” Clawson said. “With respect to the Everglades, number one, we respect private property rights. That is important in our economy and our society. Number two, we are respectful of the state’s regulatory authority. And number three, I’m not a big fan of drilling in the Everglades.”
After making that statement, Clawson demanded a promise that his statement on private property rights be published with his statement about drilling. After no such promise was given, Clawson expressed regret for having spoken on the record, and was visibly shaken by the idea that his statement about not being a big fan of drilling in the Everglades would be published without his statement on having respect for private property. 
Though the oil and gas industry plays a small role in Florida’s economy, speaking out against the oil industry seems to be political taboo for many state politicians, including Clawson.
During a visit to the Everglades on Earth Day, President Obama used the opportunity to take a jab at Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott, who prohibited state employees from using the term “climate change.” 
Climate change is threatening this treasure and the communities that depend on it, which includes almost all of South Florida,” Obama said. “And if we don’t act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it. Simply refusing to say the words ‘climate change’ doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t happening.”
Opposition to the bike path peaked in March, when indigenous people and their supporters walked the length of the proposed bike path during a protest to raise awareness to the project.

Baby alligator at the Skunk Ape Nature Reserve & Research Center in Ochopee on U.S. Route 41. © 2015 Julie Dermansky 

Nicole Williams on the Turner River, with a kayak provided by Everglades Adventure Tours. © 2015 Julie Dermansky  
Traditionally the Florida tribes have wanted to be left alone,” Nicole Williams, a craftsperson and teacher of indigenous descent who took part in the walk, told DeSmog. “But in an effort to protect what is left of the Everglades, that has changed.”
The Internet has been an important tool for indigenous people across the continent to mobilize against further destruction of the Earth in the fight to stop tar sands use,” she said. “People coming together to fight for the planet is our only hope of saving what is left.” 
Yet supporters of the ROGG like Maureen Bonness, a co-founder of FROGG, an advocacy group established to support the project, believes the protest is being led by a “not-in-my-backyard” group of recreational hunters and others who just want the Everglades to themselves, according to the Naples Daily News
The only claim her organization makes about the project, which those who oppose it don’t dispute, is that it could bring hundreds of thousands more visitors to the Everglades.
How much population can the Everglades sustain and still keep its wildness?” Oscaola asks. “If you keep taking away from the areas that animals have to live – where are they going to go?” she pondered from atop of her airboat in the heart of the Everglades. “This land can only sustain so much life.” 

The Everglades. © 2015 Julie Dermansky  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Battle to Keep Florida Frack-Free Heats Up

By Julie Dermansky • Saturday, October 31, 2015 - 05:58

Julie Dermansky

The battle to keep Florida frack-free is intensifying ahead of the 2016 state legislative session.
Fracking became an issue last year after Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEPrevealed that the Dan A. Hughes Co. had fracked the Collier-Hogan well in Naples, despite regulators telling it not to until the agency had a chance to thoroughly review the company’s plans.
Shortly after the news broke, the move to ban fracking in Florida began.
Democratic State Senators Dwight Bullard and Darren Soto filed Senate Bill 166 that called for a statewide ban on fracking. Their bill failed, but was reintroduced this year.
In July, Bonita Springs, a city near Naples, passed a ban on all types of well-stimulation techniques, including fracking. Nearby Estero is considering a ban as well.
In a move that would void existing bans, companion legislation sponsored by Republican State Senator Garrett Richter(SB318) and Republican State Representative Ray Rodrigues (HB 191) calls for statewide regulations for fracking. The bills, if passed, would preempt all local ordinances governing the oil and gas industry.

Collier County legislative delegation on October 15 in Naples. ©2015 Julie Dermansky  
On October 15, the public had an opportunity to address a Collier County legislative delegation on the bills meant to govern the fracking industry. Senators Bullard and Richter were part of the delegation present at the Naples meeting
Anti-fracking activists stated that nothing short of a fracking ban would protect their families from the harm the industry can cause, pointing to other states where documented incidents of negative impacts caused by fracking are stacking up. 
Objections were made to the preemption of local ordinances governing oil and gas that would void Bonita’s ban and prevent other municipalities from initiating their own ban.
Richter said he is “not pro or anti fracking.” But he warned if the proposed statewide fracking ban fails to pass, Florida would be left with no regulations to govern fracking. Currently, no state agency has the legal authority to regulate fracking.
He doesn’t believe a statewide ban has any chance of passing, and insists the companion bills are the state’s best option to protect Florida. Not only would his legislation offer the first statewide regulations governing fracking, it would also ban fracking until the state conducts its own study.

John Dwyer at a press conference, during a break at the meeting. ©2015 Julie Dermansky
Naples anti-fracking activist John Dwyer disputed Richter’s claim that “passing something is better than nothing.”
SB 318 is “something that is far worse than nothing,” Dwyer told the panel. “It hobbles local governments so that they cannot defend their citizens against the dangers of the oil industry: the traffic, the noise, the pollution, the damage to natural resources, the health risks.”
In a state where Governor Rick Scott prohibits state employees from using the term “climate change,” Senator Bullard told DeSmog during an interview after the meeting,
The devil’s in the details. The bills’ preemption of all local rules pertaining to the oil and gas industry will make it impossible for local governments to object to anything the oil and gas industry does in a meaningful way.”
According to Bullard, the Richter and Rodrigues bills are full of loopholes that leave Florida’s water supply vulnerable. Though they claim that the bills will force the industry to reveal all of the chemicals injected into the ground, it really isn’t so.
In fact, the industry will only have to disclose the chemicals that, a registry managed in part by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, requires. allows the industry to keep a portion of the chemicals it utilizes secret due to proprietary concerns. 
Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, also finds Richter's and Rodrigues' companion bills plagued with problems. They only address fracking, offering no regulation of other forms of well stimulation techniques.
document (PDF) the Conservancy prepared for legislators explains how HB 191 and SB 318 fail: 
This legislation only addresses those techniques which fracture rock, excluding dissolving techniques and operations which “incidentally fracture the formation.”
o We know operations are completed in Florida using chemical mixtures to dissolve rock as well as fracture it. In order to address risks associated with this chemical use, dissolving and fracturing operations must be captured.
o The definition of well stimulation introduces a loophole by exempting operations that “incidentally fracture.” It is unlikely an operator would unintentionally fracture rock as this requires a great deal of fluid and high pressure. Even if this did occur, it would likely go unnoticed as fracturing occurs out of view thousands of feet below ground.
o While a draft hydraulic fracturing study has been prepared by EPA, the study does not include examples of well stimulation in Florida. Consequently, a Florida specific study is needed to evaluate the risks of unconventional extraction. 
The Conservancy played a key role in uncovering what happened at the Hogan-Collier well, where Florida’s first publicly disclosed frack job took place. 
While reviewing documents released by the DEP, Hecker learned that once a company has a permit to drill a well conventionally, all it has to do to use other well-stimulation treatments, including hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing, and matrix acidizing, is to submit a workover notice to the state. And if the workover is marked “trade secret,” the public won’t know about it.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, near the Collier-Hogan well, is home to the last remaining old growth cypress trees in the world. ©2015 Julie Dermansky 
The documents show that Hughes stimulated the Hogan-Collier well with matrix acidizing, before it informed the DEP that it intended to workover the well again by fracking it. The records reveal that the DEP was not concerned about the matrix acidizing, only the facking, but it concerns Hecker.
Matrix acidizing uses many of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, though it is not considered fracking. The chemicals are injected into the well with less pressure than required for fracking to dissolve rock (limestone in Florida’s case) to increase the flow of oil.
Matrix acidizing is more likely to be utilized than fracking in Florida,” Hecker said, and legislators she spoke to told her “the process is thought to be fairly commonly used in Florida.” 
The discovery that workover treatments can be kept confidential was alarming.
Hecker pointed out there is no way for the public to know how many wells have been worked over with well-stimulation treatments.
The Conservancy isn’t pushing for a fracking ban,” she said, but it does not support the regulatory bills as they currently stand. 
Pamela Duran, a Naples resident who lives 1,000 feet from a site where Hughes had planned to drill before the state revoked the company’s drilling permit, approached Richter during a break in the session. She asked him if he believed fracking is safe. “Yes,” Richter said, explaining that his conclusion is based on findings of Florida’s DEP and the EPA’s recent study. 
LIke other pro-industry supporters, Richter’s takeaway from the EPA’s preliminary report on fracking's potential impact on drinking water resources  was that the fracking doesn’t damage the water supply. “Fracking can be accomplished without any material harm to our water supply,” he said, “That study would refute that it damages our water supply.”
He admitted to not reading the entire report, so it is unclear if he realizes the report determined that the fracking industry was responsible for contamination of some drinking water supplies. 
In an interview with DeSmog, Richter dismissed the concerns of those citizens speaking out against his bill as “emotional,” and denied that the bill would make the Bonita Springs fracking ban illegal.
Bonita’s ban is more of a public statement than it is an actual ban,” Richter said. ”No one is going to go into Bonita Springs and go for oil. Let’s call a duck a duck.”
If our fracking ban is symbolic, why is Richter pursuing a bill to overturn it?” Ben Nelson, the mayor of Bonita Springs, asked DeSmog. His citizens don’t want their city to be transformed into an industrial zone. The city’s ban on all well stimulation techniques, including fracking, was put in place to make sure that doesn’t happen. Nelson objects to any bill that strips local municipalities of their right to govern land use.
Senator Bullard also objects to such moves. His district currently includes part of Collier County, the county where new well stimulation activities are most likely to occur. 
Efforts to redistrict the counties Bullard represents are already in the works. However, Bullard plans to continue fighting for a fracking ban even if new redistricting rules take Collier County away from him.
“Aquifers don’t follow redistricting rules,” he said.
VIDEO: Antifracking Activist, Dr. Karen Dwyer at a press conference in Naples

Beach in Bonita Springs. ©2015 Julie Dermansky
Attachment: The Conservency of Southwest Florida’s Legislator Handout 2016 
Article was originally published here: