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

Categories: Broward News

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

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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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