Florida Takes Legal Action against Texas Oil Company Illegally Fracking in Fragile Everglades Watershed

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection announced last week that it will be taking legal action against the Dan. A. Hughes Company, a Texas based oil company, for violating state drilling regulations at one of its wells located near the Everglades, accusing the company of disregarding the safety of Florida residents and natural resources. Among the issues of concern regarding the illegal drilling operation cited by DEP were concerns over company’s groundwater monitoring and handling of drilling wastewater. The company was extracting natural gas though the controversial practice of injecting high levels of hydrochloric acid into wells known as “acid fracking,” a practice similar to Hydraulic fracturing.

The Florida Panther, once a common site throughout the state, has suffered from habitat loss, Forrest fragmentation, urbanization and pouching. Environmentalists are concerned that increased drilling activity in Florida’s fragile wetland watersheds could further threaten the survival of the species. (Photo Courtesy of the National Parks Service)

The company is accused of unauthorized drilling in the Big Cypress Swamp whose fresh water resources are essential to the health of the Florida Everglades Watershed and support marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast.  The Big Cypress watershed is home to a protected National Preserve, serves as a critical fresh water reservoir and supports hundreds of species including the critically endangered Florida panther. The Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammal species in the United States; it is estimated that only 160 individuals remain in the wild.

DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. announced the lawsuit last week saying the state agency will “file a lawsuit against the Dan A. Hughes Company to address violations at the Collier-Hogan well. After months of holding Dan A. Hughes accountable for unauthorized activities at the Collier-Hogan well site, it is clear that the Company has not taken seriously the Department’s demands to protect Collier County families or Florida’s natural resources.”

This lawsuit will seek force the Hughes Company to shut down its operations at the Collier-Hogan site, until pending completion of appropriate environmental testing and analyses can be completed by the DEP. The company announced last week that it had shot down drilling operations at the disputed site which is located near Florida Panther habitat. According to DEP press secretary Tiffany Cowie says the company’s announcement of a temporary shutdown at the site does not change the agency’s plan to sue.

Residents and environmentalists called on the state to take action against the Hughes Company when it was discovered that the company was practicing acid fracking in the area last year Environmentalists cite concerns that the practice, which requires high volumes of fresh water, may deplete the watershed’s supply of fresh water, putting the ecosystem and residents at risk. The practice also raises concerns over the handling of toxins, including hydrochloric acid, produced for and during the drilling process. Activists and environmentalists argue that until more research is done to understand the long-term effects of such practices on the fragile ecosystems in the region drilling operations should be halted.

Environmentalists also cite convenes that fracking could increase seismic activity in the area. Seismologists say the practice of Hydraulic fracturing may be causing an increase in seismic actively in areas where drilling is allowed. Earlier this month 8 small earthquakes were recorded by the United States Geological Survey in Oklahoma over a span of about 30 hours. Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resources for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, warned that seismic testing deployed in other regions where fracking is allowed will not be as effective in Florida because of the porous nature of Southwest Florida’s limestone bedrock. Florida’s limestone may also pose a problem for potential drilling operations because of fragility of limestone formations which are prone to erosion and are a contributing factor to the creation of sinkholes in the region

United States Senator Bill Nelson flew in to Southwest Florida Earlier this month to listen to the concerns of his constituents, environmental groups and government officials about oil drilling in Southwest Florida. “We’ve spend billions of dollars to restore the Everglades — that’s taxpayer dollars,” he said. “I want to make sure what goes on does not mess that up.” Nelson said he will bring the concerns of Florida residents back to Washington but argued that he bevies more research must be done to understand the effects of acid and hydrologic fracturing on the environment before federal action can be taken.

For more information please see:

News 13 – DEP Suing Oil Company for Using Fracking-Like Technique near Everglades – 17 July 2014

First Coast News – Oil Company Busted For Fracking In The Everglades – 16 July 2014

CBS News – 8 Small Earthquakes Shake Oklahoma As Fracking Critics Grumble – 14 July 2014

Naples Daily News – Sen. Nelson: Prevent Oil Drilling In Southwest Florida from ‘Messing Up’ Everglades – 14 July 2014

National Parks Service – Big Cypress National Preserve – 2014

Author: Kathryn Maureen Ryan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *