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Fracking in South Florida? Environmentalists Steamed Over Texas Company Drilling Near Lake Tafford

| July 5, 2014

Take your fracking and shove it: protesters in South Florida. (Astronomy Gal)

Take your fracking and shove it: protesters in South Florida. (Astronomy Gal)

For a couple months now, residents and officials in Collier County have been up in arms about recent revelations that a Texas-based oil company used an unauthorized fracking-like method to extract oil from a well near Lake Trafford. Environmentalists and county officials have said the state’s environmental agency has not done enough to protect water resources in the area, prompting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to step in. The results are mixed.

Just several weeks ago, Collier County’s Board of Commissioners were in a legal stand-off with DEP. Officials publicly traded barbs via press releases and public meetings.

The two groups were at odds over how DEP was handling news that the Dan A. Hughes Company used an unapproved method of drilling that had never been used before in Florida. The method involved highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals, which is very similar to a process of extracting natural gas called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

The company had already riled residents in the area. Months before, the DEP had approved an oil exploration permit in Golden Gate Estates, also in Collier County. This well, unlike the Collier-Hogan well near Lake Trafford where the fracking-like incident occurred, was right next to homes.

In December, though, the company had run afoul of DEP. Dan A. Hughes had moved forward with a workover order that wasn’t approved. Once state officials got wind that Hughes was moving forward with their plans, the agency filed a cease and desist order. The company was ordered to pay a fine and hire an independent contractor to test groundwater for contamination.

But, county officials and residents weren’t pleased with the speed of the penalties. Weeks later, there was no word when the testing would take place and the company wasn’t discussing with the public what exactly happened at the Collier-Hogan well. That’s why Collier Commissioners decided to file a legal challenge to the DEP’s Consent Order.

As I reported for WGCU, in that meeting commissioners were accusing both DEP and Dan A. Hughes of being secretive: “Commissioner Fred Coyle said he and the other commissioners have not been able to convince DEP officials to have a public discussion about this. ‘The DEP should be here talking to us about their lax enforcement of the current permit and they are not,’ he said. ‘The only way we can get them here is to do so legally.’ DEP officials have been asking commissioners not to move forward with their challenge because the state said it could stop current penalties against Dan A. Hughes from being carried out until the legal issue is over.

“Following news that commissioners are still filing a legal challenge, the DEP sent out a press release saying Collier County is ‘jeopardizing the department’s enforcement action against the company.’ The release also said the county’s decision is based on incorrect and incomplete information. Commission Vice Chairman Tim Nance said the statement is outrageous. ‘This makes me madder than anything to have a state agency to treat me, who is trying to reach out to you and deal with our county—this is my home too,’ he said. ‘This really messes me up.'”

DEP officials insisted they would only talk to commissioners in private meetings in Tallahassee. Days after a public breakdown between the two groups, a private meeting was set between officials, including DEP chief Herschel Vinyard and Collier County Commission Chair Tom Henning. Afterwards the DEP began a media tour and asked Dan A. Hughes to be more transparent, as well.

DEP officials also said that they would step in and conduct their own water testing, since the Dan A. Hughes Consent Order was locked in a legal challenge. According to The News Press in Fort Myers:

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection began groundwater testing in Collier County on Tuesday, but it didn’t go off without a hitch. Last week, DEP announced it would perform its own groundwater tests at the Collier-Hogan well, located near the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. In April, DEP fined the Dan A. Hughes Co. $25,000 and ordered it to perform groundwater tests at the site for using a fracking-like unpermitted drilling operation. Collier commissioners found the agreement unsatisfactory and filed a legal petition earlier this month. Since that petition DEP has made several concessions, including ordering the company and Collier Resources, which owns the land and mineral rights, to hold a series of public hearings. The agency subsequently announced it would begin its own groundwater testing. That testing began Tuesday, but news conferences scheduled at the site were canceled because Collier Resources and the company wouldn’t let media onto the site.”

However, this week the state released early results from their groundwater tests. According to state officials, they found no contamination in those tests. According to The News-Press:

“DEP released the results from several groundwater samplings near the Collier-Hogan well Tuesday showing no evidence of pollution from a drilling operation. The findings are the first in a series of tests ordered in response to an unauthorized, fracking-like procedure used at the well this winter by the Dan A. Hughes Co., of Beeville, Texas. Two private lab analysis are pending, according to a news release from DEP. ‘Our lab technicians expedited their analysis and today we have confirmation that the first water-quality tests show that contamination in the area is highly unlikely,’ DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said in a statement. DEP set up six new aquifer monitoring wells last week, along with two existing monitors, to check for contamination from ‘enhanced extraction operation’ the company used in December and January. The procedure involved injecting a dissolving solution into the oil-bearing rock formation at high pressure to ease extraction. The technique had never been used in Florida before and a DEP description matches hydraulic fracturing, which has stirred controversy in other parts of the country.”

But, this hasn’t exactly appeased water policy experts and environmentalists. Via WGCU:

“Jennifer Hecker, who [works] at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, has warned the state isn’t drilling test wells deep enough.
‘Fracking like activity would be very deep in the ground beneath our aquifers that we use for public drinking supply,’ Hecker said. ‘So, that’s where our groundwater monitoring wells should have been installed. Unfortunately they installed very shallow wells, which are sampling an area which would practically be the last place one would find contamination from this type of activity.’ Hecker said testing should be conducted at no less than 900 feet. The DEP is testing at 13 feet. Officials eventually plan to test at well that’s 400 feet deep. In a press release, DEP officials said because groundwater is close to the surface in that region, the ‘shallow depths of these wells [is] the location most likely to be the first impacted by activities at the site, and therefore yield the most accurate results at this point in the process.’ Hecker said she’s concerned these results will give people a false sense of security.”

As NPR points out, this all comes at a time when the state is being explored by oil companies using new technology. The hopes are new drilling techniques could make Southwest Florida a new destination for oil drilling. But, the state doesn’t have the statutory framework to deal with all of the new oil exploration. According to NPR:

“Hecker says there’s a larger problem. Florida, she says, isn’t ready for the new oil drilling technologies. ‘We have some very antiquated oil and gas [regulations] that were written long ago when these kinds of techniques didn’t really even exist or were used,’ Hecker says. Florida’s oil and gas regulations currently make no mention of acid stimulation, hydraulic fracturing or other new extraction technologies. Hughes says that’s why it believes its operations are allowed under Florida law. Hecker says regulators and lawmakers need to take action before approving more drilling permits. ‘This horizontal drilling, the use of all of these chemicals, the high-pressure injection of those chemicals — that’s a whole different process than what we have traditionally seen here in Collier County, so we need to update the laws and regulations,’ Hecker says. On this point at least, state regulators, local officials and environmental groups agree. Vinyard says he has asked his staff to develop recommendations on updating Florida’s oil and gas regulations.”

DEP also recently sent out a letter to Dan A. Hughes scolding the company for not arranging public meetings yet. The company has, however, set up a day for media to visit the site in a few weeks.

–Ashley Lopez, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

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17 Responses for “Fracking in South Florida? Environmentalists Steamed Over Texas Company Drilling Near Lake Tafford”

  1. barbie says:

    This is unbelievable: the laws are old and outdated, so since “Florida’s oil and gas regulations currently make no mention of acid stimulation, hydraulic fracturing or other new extraction technologies”, “Hughes says that’s why it believes its operations are allowed under Florida law”

    What these people are doing has to stop, NOW. They are wrong and they are dangerous. Fracking is dangerous no matter what the many minions of the oil and gas companies will fan out with their PR people onto blogs and news sources like this one, tell you otherwise.

  2. Bunnell Resident says:

    Being without energy resources is also dangerous. Get the questions answered by the experts and extract energy resources in a responsible manner. Yes, we can have energy independence without destroying the environment.

    • Geezer from his trusty iPad says:

      Wow here’s a reader with a nescient comment for a change.

      Seeing that energy production can be ethically and responsibly performed,
      I wonder why those silly people in South Florida worry about fracking.
      Frig those anti-frackers. Look at what a nice company BP is.
      Oil companies care about the environment and want to supply affordable energy.

      All of the life on earth loves to have oily sludge on them (high spf factor).
      I just love it when fracking introduces oil into the water supply!
      Free oil! Drink it or lube something! Flammable faucets!

      Caring about the preservation of a life sustaining environment is for liberals and Yankees.

      Experts agree.

    • barbie says:

      We can have energy independence without destroying the environment when–and only when–the companies performing the work do so with regulatory oversight.

      They don’t want that. They want nothing to do with “experts”. They want what they want, and they don’t give a d*mn about our environment. If they did, they wouldn’t be trying to pull this insanity off in SOUTH FLORIDA.

      Do you have *any idea* what goes into fracking? This state sits on what’s essentially a giant slab of limestone. If the water table gets below that slab–which it does already, naturally, for example during drought–that’s when you start seeing sinkholes. We already have enough problems with those. Fracking will make it worse.

      Get the facts, please. Those companies don’t care about “responsible” anything. They care only about PROFIT. Fracking needs an endless supply of water just to be done. Fracking is DANGEROUS. Our “energy independence” is pointless if none of us is here to enjoy it. Human beings can’t live without water.

  3. karma says:

    The same people that want to kill the coal industry now want destroy the gas industry(NYS also). I would be willing to bet these people drive fossil fuel cars and purchase electric produced from coal,nuclear or natural gas and bitching about their utility rates.. Do you believe the people pictured in the above article all have solar panels creating their own electric? I Don’t!! Just Say

  4. confidential says:

    Stop NOW! The fragile Florida aquifer and specially our underground prone to collapse in huge swallowing all sinkholes is no place for fracking for oil extraction… We are sold out cheap to the best bidder like I said by these government agencies supposed to protect our scarce water sources! Shame!

  5. JoJo says:

    Hope every homeowner has sink hole coverage in Florida. Let the ground collapse. This is setting a dangerous precedent in Florida. The only thing worse than this idea is the Navy practicing bombing runs in the Ocala National Forest. My house literally shakes in Palm Coast.

  6. frank says:

    Wait a minute, wasn’t it just three days ago this blog was trumpeting “NASA satellite data showing stunning improvements in air quality in U.S. cities between 2005 and 2011” and extremist liberal environmental commenters like Epely were congratulating the EPA. Well to the best of my knowledge the EPA never drilled a well or produced any (natural) gas. They just cut down trees for pulp in order to publish mountains of regulation. Fracking, on the other hand has escaped their regulator ire, to date. So where did all that “stunning improvement” come from, I’ll tell you, natural gas (& oil) produced from fracking. Let’s just let the DEP monitor this situation and breathe clear air.

  7. People Power says:

    The citizens of Collier County pressured the local government to remove Red Light Cameras in 2013, so I suspect they will do the same about Fracking before it takes control.

    Website reference to Red light Camera removal in Collier County:

  8. barbie says:

    Just because they were successful against red light cameras doesn’t mean you or me or anyone else should assume that they can handle Big Oil/Gas. This isn’t something that we should assume They’ve Got It Covered.

  9. Sherry Epley says:

    We should be and could be moving away from all fossil and nuclear energy! Other countries are doing it!

    OK. . . Florida is the sunshine state! Just why isn’t there a solar panel on every roof? Because the energy companies cannot figure out just how to make massive profits from sunshine, and the oil companies are doing everything they can to stop solar and other energy development.

    Also the KOCH BROTHERS profits are on the line and so they are hip deep in manipulating “conservative’s” energy policy. . . :this from news.mic:

    Koch Industries, owned by multi-billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, is the biggest oil and gas contributor (beating even ExxonMobil) to the political electoral system, spending $2.3 million in the first five months of 2012 and over $8 million in 2011. Koch Industries holdings include Flint Hills Resources, which processes 300 million barrels of oil a year (possibly up to 5% of the U.S.’ carbon footprint), and the company is one of the top five oil speculators in the world. It has a vested interest in driving up the price of oil, while another of its subsidiaries, Koch Carbon, boasts that products from its subsidiaries touch more than 40% of the one billion tons of coal produced every year.

    Suffice it to say that Koch Industries is not a big fan of solar, which threatens to challenge their entire business model. So a coalition consisting of the Koch brothers, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (which backed more than 70 bills in 37 states to impede clean energy), major power companies and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist are fighting to roll back solar-friendly provisions in dozens of states.

    • ♛ⒼⒺⒺⓏⒺⓇ says:

      Thank you Sherry Epley and Barbie for sharing your apt comments and viewpoints.
      Keep ’em coming!

  10. karma says:

    Maybe Tom Steyer should invest in the fracking industry. Seems he had no problem making millions in the dirty coal business.

  11. Yellowstone says:

    Let’s frack in Naples and see how easily that idea goes through . . .

  12. Don't give a Frack says:

    Yesterday I felt an 3.0 earthquake here in Palm Coast….Oh Wait, it was just somebody lighting off large fireworks down the street. Still can’t find my dog and my cat won’t come down from the ceiling fan !

  13. Sherry Epley says:

    Awwww. . . I am just so delighted that I’m considered to be an extreme liberal environmentalist! Yes. . . that and many, many other things as well. A liberated, independent, educated, cultured, very well traveled, open minded, progressive, insightful, soulful, authentic, compassionate, caring human being. . . and very proud of it! Also, a Florida native with ancestors arriving in our state in the 1700s. And you Frank?

  14. confidential says:

    We seat on top of coquina rocks floating on aquifers and sand and could anyone imagine what fracking will do to us in Florida sinkhole prone already, if is causing all these earthquakes in Oklahoma that seats in rock and shale beds? :

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