Florida Finally Gets Mad Over 'Acid Fracking' Near Vulnerable Wildlife Habitat

News & Politics

Florida environmental officials are finally playing hardball with a drilling company using a controversial “acid fracking” extraction process near the Everglades. Last night, the state sent out a scathing letter to the company, demanding it properly monitor ground water near its operations and to come clean with local residents about its practices. The company, Dan A. Hughes, has two weeks to comply or the state may revoke its license.

This is a big reversal by the state, which had angered Collier County officials and residents for allegedly working behind the scenes with Hughes as it continued fracking operations, although the company had not acted in good faith over the past several months.

Earlier this year, southern Floridians were upset to find that the company was blasting the bedrock with high-pressure acid. Collier County officials accused state regulators of being lax in their oversight of the new drilling practice, which they say can imperil the surrounding environment and the health of residents.

While acid has long been used to break-up limestone during drilling, the operation, near the Everglades in southwest Florida, involves injecting a very acidic fracking compound into the ground under high amounts of pressure. This process has not been used in Florida before.

Back in December, state regulators asked Hughes to suspend fracking operations on a 4-month old well on a tomato farm in the Big Cypress National Preserve while they studied the irregular process. However, the company ignored the state and drilling continued. Even after the state’s Department of Environmental Protection gave the company a cease-and-desist order, Hughes continued operations. After some wrangling, the state and the company came to an agreement earlier this year, which included a $25,000 fine for injecting unapproved acid underground in the middle of Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a vulnerable nesting site for wood storks. Hughes was also required to improve ground-water monitoring. 

However, the state kept its wrangling with Hughes a secret from the county and its residents, who only found out about the agreement through in the media months later. County officials then asked the state to meet with them about acid-fracking practices, but the state refused. This lack of transparency angered Collier County officials, and they recently went to court to force the state to revoke Hughes’ permit. The action by the county is believed to have prompted Florida officials to act yesterday.

“The DEP’s job is to protect the public and the environment,” Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard told NaplesNews.com. “We believe the activities at the well have made people uneasy about the oil industry and what was done.

“If they don’t comply, we will hold them accountable,” Vinyard continued, adding that noncompliance could range from a $10,000 fine to pulling the permit at the well.

Florida’s demands include:

  • Proper notification of three public meetings the company will hold to discuss operations.

  • Publicly announced media and public access to the site to ensure previous violations aren’t ongoing.

  • Confirmation on whether the company took flowback samples prior to June 23, when DEP arrived to inspect the site. If samples were taken, DEP demands them and wants to know who made the decision to do so and not notify the agency.

  • Testimony before county commissioners to discuss practices and long-term plans.

  • Revisions of a groundwater monitoring plan DEP required to address previously identified deficiencies

  • A regular status report to ensure proper safety mechanisms are in place regarding the practice of spraying oil into truck tanks, creating an oil sheen on the ground that has been shown in aerial photos.

​Though oil drilling seems at odds with southwest Florida, which is known for its wildlife parks and agricultural reserves, its nothing new. In fact oil wells have been part of the landscape since World War II. But residents and local officials say that the new, advanced extraction techniques pose larger risks to the environment are a matter of concern. Most of the recent drilling applications have been for exploratory wells, or “wildcats” as they're called in the industry. First, companies drill an exploratory well to search for oil. If non is found, they plug it up and move on. If there is, they drill a second well to inject the fracking wastewater, called brine, into the ground.

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