Research & Commentary: No Need to Fear Fracking in Florida

Published January 24, 2019

Companion legislation has been introduced in the Florida Legislature that would ban hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” in the Sunshine State. Opposition to fracking in Florida stems partly from environmental concerns over the possibility the process could contaminate the Everglades National Park or groundwater in the Floridan or Biscayne aquifers, which provide drinking water to most of the state’s population. (Other legislation has also been introduced to ban fracking specifically to “protect the integrity of the aquifer.”)

Enacting a permanent ban on fracking would be a costly mistake. Fracking wells are located thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s surface. However, water wells and drinking water sources are typically no more than hundreds of feet deep. Despite fear-mongering to the contrary, there is no evidence that seepage of fracking fluids, oil, or natural gas from fracking wells contaminate water sources.

The misconception that fracking is polluting water has been debunked by numerous researchers. Since 2010, there have been more than two dozen peer-reviewed studies and assessments from experts determining the fracking process is not a systemic threat to groundwater sources. Perhaps most notably, the Obama-era U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed these findings in 2016 with its own $29 million, six-year study of the impacts on groundwater by 110,000 fracked oil and natural gas wells in use across the country since 2011. That report concluded, “Hydraulic fracturing operations are unlikely to generate sufficient pressure to drive fluids into shallow drinking water zones.”

While no fracking is currently being conducted in the state, the process has been used in the past, and Florida has a long history of oil and natural gas extraction. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports over 1.92 million barrels of crude oil were extracted from the state in 2017, along with 14.87 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, “Over 1,000 permitted wells have been drilled [in Florida] since 1943. During this timeframe, the petroleum industry has safely produced 611 million barrels of crude oil and 689 billion cubic feet of natural gas. … There have been no major accidents, spills, or blowouts in Florida’s history. Compliance rates with permit provisions and Florida’s rules and statutes for the industry is very high, around 98 percent.”

As well as being environmentally safe, fracking has had a positive economic impact on those areas that have allowed the practice. A 2016 study of communities near shale basins – conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – determined hydraulic fracturing activity brings $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including “a 7 percent increase in average income, driven by rises in wages and royalty payments, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.” 

Federal, state, and local governments have tested thousands of sites for hydraulic fracturing pollution of groundwater and drinking water resources over the last decade. In light of the immense number of studies showing fracking is safe and that it provides substantial economic benefits, Florida lawmakers should not seek to ban fracking, place a moratorium on, or place onerous regulations on drilling activity. Traditional drilling is currently being conducted in the Sunshine State in a safe and responsible manner.

It is not meant to suggest there are zero risks associated with fracking or other drilling operations. However, those risks are quite small compared to the enormous benefits fracking continues to provide to the United States.

The following documents provide more information about fracking.

Debunking Four Persistent Myths about Hydraulic Fracturing
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief by Policy Analyst Timothy Benson and Linnea Lueken, a former Heartland communications intern, outlines the basic elements of the fracking process and then refutes the four most widespread fracking myths, providing lawmakers and the public with the research and data they need to make informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing.

The Local Economic and Welfare Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing
This comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says fracking brings, on average, $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including a 7 percent increase in average income, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels – Summary for Policymakers—summary-for-policymakers
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels1 by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels
This Heartland Policy Brief by Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara documents the many benefits from the historic and still ongoing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, reducing all the negative effects of poverty on human health, and vastly improving human well-being and safety by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. They are dramatically increasing the quantity of food humans produce and improving the reliability of the food supply, directly benefiting human health. Further, fossil fuel emissions are possibly contributing to a “Greening of the Earth,” benefiting all the plants and wildlife on the planet.

Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues
This Heartland Institute booklet explores solutions to the top public policy issues facing the states in 2018 and beyond in the areas of budget and taxes, education, energy and environment, health care, and constitutional reform. The solutions identified are proven reform ideas that have garnered significant support among the states and with legislators.

Bill McKibben’s Terrifying Disregard for Fracking Facts
This Heartland Institute Policy Study, written by Research Fellow Isaac Orr, examines how methane emissions are measured, reports the effect those emissions may have on global warming, and discusses several falsehoods journalist Bill McKibben repeats from the discredited movie Gasland. It also evaluates the available fracking alternatives and discusses the relatively small impact new methane-emissions rules enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency will likely have on Earth’s climate.

Impacts of the Natural Gas and Oil Industry on the U.S. Economy in 2015
This study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, shows that the natural gas and oil industry supported 10.3 million U.S. jobs in 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage paid by the natural gas and oil industry, excluding retail station jobs, was $101,181 in 2016, which is nearly 90 percent more than the national average. The study also shows the natural gas and oil industry has had widespread impacts in each of the 50 states.

What If … America’s Energy Renaissance Never Happened?
This report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy examines the impact the development of shale oil and gas has had on the United States. The report’s authors found that without the fracking-related “energy renaissance,” 4.3 million jobs in the United States may not have ever been created and $548 billion in annual GDP would have been lost since 2009. The report also found electricity prices would be 31 percent higher and gasoline prices 43 percent higher.

What If … Hydraulic Fracturing Was Banned?
This study is the fourth in a series of studies produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. It examines what a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing would entail. The report’s authors found by 2022, a ban would cause 14.8 million jobs to “evaporate,” almost double gasoline and electricity prices, and increase natural gas prices by 400 percent. Moreover, cost of living expenses would increase by nearly $4,000 per family, household incomes would be reduced by $873 billion, and GDP would be reduced by $1.6 trillion.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Lindsey Stroud, Heartland’s government relations manager for Florida, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.