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Collier Commissioners Vote to File Petition for Administrative Hearing Over Fracking-Like Drilling

Collier commissioners voted to file a petition for a formal administrative hearing Tuesday challenging a consent order entered into between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Dan A. Hughes Company. 

The issue arose after DEP fined the oil drilling company for unauthorized activities at a Collier County well south of Lake Trafford. The agency ordered the company to cease new operations in Florida until it could determine what happened at the well. DEP says it used a fracking-like technique injecting water and chemicals to break up the ground and extract more oil.  It did that even though DEP said to wait because the technique had never been done in Florida before. But the Hughes Company went ahead and kept drilling even after the agency asked it to stop.

The Conservancy of southwest Florida retained a lawyer and technical experts. The Conservancy’s Jennifer Hecker told commissioners they uncovered new information this week revealing an old, abandoned, uncapped well from the 1940’s nearby which could have contaminated drinking water.

“The legal analysis showed that much of the information that should have been required prior to DEP finalizing a consent order to settle this matter with Dan Hughes was not obtained prior to DEP signing including what chemicals were used in their material safety data sheets, how and where the flow back wastewater was disposed of, if the amount of water used was consistent with their consumptive use water permit limits and interim spill prevention and clean-up plan ad assurances that injected fluids had not migrated to other groundwater formations and aquifers,” said Hecker.

The Conservancy filed a legal maneuver this week to intervene in the county’s case with the DEP. Commissioner Fred Coyle said he’s not afraid to take on the state on this issue.

“It’s important enough that we assure that our people are safe,” said Coyle. “And I’d like to do it in a way that permits people to exercise their rights of extracting minerals if they own the mineral rights but that has to be done in a way that we can prove and that we know is safe.”

The Hughes Company has been telling media in a statement that “Protection of human life and the environment are the company’s highest priorities…We plan to fully perform the well monitoring and other actions required in the consent order and are already in the process of doing so. We are confident the results will show that operations at the well are safe, and that the ground water was not impacted by our operations.”

Meanwhile the Collier County attorney said he may eventually look for direction regarding asking for legislative priorities as to whether they can possibly ban drilling in the county.