DEP Busts Everglades Oil Driller for Fracking, Clams Up, Slammed for Cover-up
In the interim between the initial order and its finalization, high-ranking DEP officials including Ed Garrett, administrator of the agency's Oil and Gas Program, attended a March 11 EPA hearing in Naples on the Hughes Co.'s Golden Gate well. Also in attendance were members of the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee, which had been instructed to advise DEP on the Golden Gate well by the administrative judge hearing a challenge to that project. A DEP briefing packet for the committee, prepared at Garrett's direction, makes no mention of the Corkscrew Swamp fracking. Additionally, the consent order between DEP and the Hughes Company over the fracking requires that "all submittals and payments" related to the order be sent to Garrett.
(In an October 4, 2012, email to Dr. Karen Dwyer, a leader in the citizen activist group StoneCrab Alliance, DEP's Garrett said it was the agency's position that an oil company
does not need to submit a permit application prior to conducting hydraulic fracturing, only a notification. The intent of the notification requirement is to allow us the opportunity to interject if our engineering staff does not accept that the operation will be conducted safely.)
The March 11 EPA hearing drew such a massive outpouring of impassioned citizens against the Golden Gate well that EPA extended its public comment period. In a second brief moment of hope for Hughes' opponents, on March 31 the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee recommended against the well. But on April 15 DEP told the administrative law judge the agency has "no basis, under its existing regulatory authority, to deny the application."
News of the DEP's December sanctions has shocked opponents of Everglades drilling.
In a text message to New Times, the StoneCrab Alliance's Dwyer wrote:
As we clearly warned for the last 12 months, extreme extraction, including fracking, was on the agenda, despite denials by the Dan A. Hughes Company. It is no surprise that the company has been caught illegally fracking, although it is absolutely unconscionable, and we do condemn it since it recklessly endangers our land water and air. It is surprising that the DEP would fail to disclose the Dan A. Hughes Company's criminal wrongdoing from the Administrative Judge, U.S. EPA, and Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee--all of whom were making crucial decisions on the company's highly controversial Golden Gate exploratory and injection well permits. Dan A. Hughes cannot be trusted to implement 'industry best practices.' They need to be shut down. The DEP and EPA should deny the still pending Golden Gate permits.
Ralf Brookes, attorney for Preserve Our Paradise, told New Times he plans to file a motion to introduce the Corkscrew Swamp consent order into the administrative hearings on the Golden Gate well, in which Preserve Our Paradise is lead plaintiff. In an interview Brookes said:
It's unbelievable it was not disclosed to the advisory committee at the EPA hearing. They were specifically asked about fracking. Twenty-five thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money, but it's a drop in the bucket to these guys -- like a toll booth on a bridge. It looks like a knowing violation, not something you do by mistake. It may warrant a criminal investigation. But Gov. Scott seems to work with violators rather than go after them.
The final consent order in the Corkscrew Swamp fracking violation includes this language from DEP:
The [Hughes] Company contends that at all times it was operating lawfully under a valid permit and followed all applicable procedures required to conduct the Workover Operations described in Exhibit 1. [Exhibit 1 has been redacted as a "confidential trade secret."]
Neither the DEP nor Hughes has responded to New Times' requests for comment. The timing of the agency's announcement of the Corkscrew Swamp fracking sanctions was such that our requests for comment were made during a holiday weekend. We will update if and when responses arrive.
In the meantime -- thanks to the good work of investigative blogger Carl-John Veraja -- we've come across this YouTube video of Christian Spilker, senior vice president of Hughes partner Collier Resources, on the Naples News Sunday talk show of July 14, 2013, talking about fracking:
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers public affairs and culture in Palm Beach County and elsewhere. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.