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

Categories: Broward News


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.

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My story for the Tampa Bay Times didn't "dance around" the term "fracking," as you claim. The story said that the DEP wouldn't use the term and wouldn't make their oil and gas chief available for an interview, but the story says that what the company was caught doing met the dictionary definition of "fracking." 

Seán Schauseil
Seán Schauseil

Shouldn't Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water be doing something about this?!?!?!?

fire.ant topcommenter

Craig: No disrespect to you or your fine work or that of the invaluable TB Times.
But a good third of your story involves semantics (a kind of pre-emptive justification for even introducing the word "fracking") and the headline reads "Could Be Fracking." Why "could be" when it clearly "is"?

It's uncomfortably reminiscent of the NY Times and others' contortions over Abu Ghraib and the CIA secret prisons, back-flipping to avoid the word "torture."
Perhaps the excess of caution is the "responsible" thing to do. But "responsible" to whom? The public is best served when we call a spade a spade.

(My guess is some editor had a role in this and the language would have been more forthright if you'd had a free hand.

Just between you and me, was Dan A. Hughes fracking at  Corkscrew Swamp?)


@fire.ant  I am not sure someone who posts under a pseudonym can give lectures on being forthright vs semantic obfuscation, and your comparison of my story to some papers trying to avoid using the word "torture" in connection with Abu Ghraib is both ridiculous and insulting. 

To answer you, I'd say that 1) the story ran the way I wrote it; and 2) yes, it IS responsible journalism to say "this is what the authorities are saying, but this is what it sounds like is really happening and here's why." 

The word "could be" is in the headline because it could be fracking. Is it? I don't know and you don't either. I know what it sounds like but I don't have a document in my hand or an expert who can swear that it is. That lack of certain knowledge is a big part of the story.

By spelling out the difference between what the government said and what it sounds like is happening (and showing the source for saying what it sounds like) the story communicates to the reader just how big a deal it is that the DEP won't say what the possible contamination might be. 

The bottom line here -- which you mislabeled as "dancing around," -- is that the DEP's determination to protect a permit holder's trade secrets trumped the public's right to know what might be going into the water supply.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@craigtimes "The word "could be" is in the headline because it could be fracking. Is it? I don't know and you don't either"

100% Bullshit.

fire.ant topcommenter

@craigtimes @fire.ant

We sure do like they way you let the frackers (or whatever they want to call themselves) hang themselves:

Instead of using water mixed with chemicals to create fractures, as is common in fracking, it was using acid, Blackmon said, adding that company officials don't see anything wrong with what they did.

"We were never sure," he said. "We have never really been told what the objection was."

...The company was injecting the acid deep underground to fracture the limestone, then injecting a mix of sand and chemical gel under pressure, to prop open the new fractures and let the oil flow out, he said. That's called using a "proppant."

Although the whole process is similar to fracking, Blackmon called it an "acid stimulation treatment," which he said "is used very commonly in Florida."


Too funny.

fire.ant topcommenter

@craigtimes @fire.ant  

That I write pseudonymously is neither here nor there.

Different strokes for different folks. I respect your point of view. And clearly,  I agree about the "bottom line," as the cover-up is a major thrust of my story. I look forward to reading more of your good work.


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