DEP Busts Everglades Oil Driller for Fracking, Clams Up, Slammed for Cover-up | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

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DEP Busts Everglades Oil Driller for Fracking, Clams Up, Slammed for Cover-up

Critics of oil company plans to drill in the Everglades saw some of their worst fears realized late last week when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection revealed it had sanctioned Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Co. for unauthorized fracking in Collier County in an area surrounded by the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks.

The critics' dismay was compounded by the fact that the fracking and sanctions, including a $25,000 fine, date to last December but were not disclosed to public officials and citizens at last month's hearings on the Hughes Co.'s Florida activity.

Hydraulic fracturing, AKA "fracking," involves blasting millions of gallons of water and a slew of chemicals into the ground to fracture rock formations and release oil and gas. The practice's impact on the environment and human health is highly controversial. Under Florida law, drillers are permitted to label their chemical mixtures "trade secrets," exempting them from disclosure to the general public under Florida's "Sunshine" laws.

The Corkscrew Swamp well (Collier-Hogan 20-3H) is on property that is part of a lease by the Hughes Co. from mineral rights land baron Collier Resources. The lease's 115,000 acres include large portions of the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. (Ironically, Hughes President Dan A. Hughes chairs the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.)

Hughes' drilling has drawn fierce opposition from Collier County homeowners and South Florida environmentalists. Whether or not the drilling involves fracking -- and the public has been told it would not -- they object out of concern about air and groundwater pollution, traffic congestion and hazardous waste, and fear of the drilling's impact on the Florida Panther and other species. (According to Fractracker, Hughes' Golden Gate Estates well, southwest of the Corkscrew Swamp well, will use a process called "acid fracking.")

DEP announced the Corkscrew Swamp sanctions Friday, citing Hughes for:

an enhanced extraction procedure that had not previously been used in Florida. The company proposed to inject a dissolving solution at sufficient pressure to achieve some openings in the oil bearing rock formation that would be propped open with sand in pursuit of enhancing oil production.

(Some media outlets have been reluctant to label the sanctioned activity as fracking, dancing around the term. New Times says if it walks like a duck and fracks like a duck... it's a duck.)

A consent order between DEP and Hughes over the fracking was finalized April 8. But the timeline it describes places the fracking and DEP's response to it much earlier:

On Dec. 23, 2013, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection received a well completion procedure notice, also known as a workover notice, from the Dan A. Hughes Company, L.P. This request was for work to be conducted for well permit number 1349H, the Collier - Hogan well located south of Lake Trafford in Collier County....

The department had concerns about the workover notice... [and] requested Dan A. Hughes Company, L.P. not move forward with the workover procedure until additional review could be performed.

However, on Dec. 31, 2013, the department became aware the workover procedure had commenced, without approval. Because of the actions of Dan A. Hughes Company, the department was not afforded the opportunity to complete its review of the proposed procedure before operations began. As a result, a Cease and Desist Order was issued and the department immediately pursued formal enforcement.