The crowd was small, but the dozen or so who attended a quickly-called anti-fracking rally in Cape Coral Friday were all avid, carrying signs and demanding action be taken on the controversial method used to extract oil from the earth.
The combination rally and press conference was called by Cape Coral Councilmember Jessica Cosden who gathered with other environmental advocates Friday to urge area state lawmakers to support a ban on the practice that requires the use of - and can possibly contaminate - millions of gallons of fresh water to extract oil, which opponents say would have a devastating impact on the economy.
Also spearheading the event to announce support for a statewide fracking ban and to ask state State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and state Rep. Matt Caldwell to vote in favor of SB 442/HB 451 to do just that were Meredith Barnard, policy analyst, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and Michelle Allen, Florida organizer Food & Water Watch.
"I want to make sure Benacquisto and Caldwell understand how serious we are," Cosden said at the rally held at City Hall. "Public opinion is shifting to see that fracking is potentially dangerous and can harm not only ground water, but also the economy. The more we frack, the more negative affects we see."
Three cities, including Cape Coral last year, have already passed fracking bans, and another has passed a resolution supporting a statewide ban.
Barnard said there is strong bipartisan support for legislation that could ban fracking in an area with a unique hydrology system.
"This bill deserves the fair hearing it deserves because that's the democratic process and we want that to be honored," Barnard said, adding that nobody has had direct contact with any of the local lawmakers.
Fracking is a technique that fractures rocks with pressurized liquid - usually water, sand and thickening agents- to create cracks. Sought-after resources, such as natural gas or petroleum, will then flow more easily.
While proponents say fracking makes it easier to extract fossil fuels from the ground, opponents say it leads to possible water contamination and increased seismic activity.
Activist Patty Whitehead said this is a critical issue for Florida.
"Our geology can't support oil extraction activity. We're talking about water use for their and future generations," Whitehead said. "If we turn this state into a wasteland, what have we accomplished?"
"There are many substitutes for oil but no substitute for water," said activist Ken Jaros, who supports the use of renewable energy such as solar and wind.
His wife, Deborah, called state House Speaker Richard Corcoran's office and said she was told by a staffer there were no plans to put fracking up to a vote to even to a committee.
"I told the staffer to tell Corcoran that it is his duty as an elected public official to let the Democratic process operate. That means to out this bill on committee whether he likes it or not," Deborah said.
Cape Coral has been facing major drought issues and with the possibility of water restrictions burdening communities.
The press conference kicked off the start of water conservation month and came one week after more than 150 Floridians gathered on the steps of the State Capitol building in Tallahassee to call for a statewide fracking ban.