Everglades Acid Fracking Draws Official Opposition; Environmentalists Elated
Urged on by a coalition of engaged and alarmed citizens, public officials in Collier County yesterday stood up to a Texas oil company and the state Department of Environmental Protection and pressed on with their decision to sue for greater safeguards against acid fracking in the Everglades.
Meeting in Naples, the Collier County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to reject County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow's recommendation to enter secret settlement talks over the fracking. Instead they will sue to amend the Dan A. Hughes Co.'s drilling guidelines or, in the alternative, revoke its permit.
Collier residents and environmentalists statewide and nationally had been shocked to learn last month that the DEP had sanctioned Hughes for unauthorized fracking in an area of Collier County surrounded by the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks. Their dismay was compounded by the fact that the fracking and sanctions, including a $25,000 fine, dated to last December but were not disclosed through months of hearings this year on the Hughes Co.'s Florida activity.
Responding to those revelations, on April 22 the Collier Commission voted to authorize Klatzkow to file a challenge to the DEP's consent order over the fracking. The consent order required the company to hire "independent third-party experts" to report on the drilling and implement a cleanup plan. The commission's challenge sought:
additional provisions for oversight, safeguards, and monitoring to protect the environment and insure the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Collier County [and ] a protocol...that improves communication and coordination between the agencies regulating the Oil and Gas Program and Collier County local government, and that copies be provided to Collier County of all application packages for future oil and gas exploration, production wells, and class II injection wells, as well as all permit related correspondence, additional submittals, meeting minutes, and agency action.
In a memo to the commission, Klatzkow wrote that, following the April 22 challenge vote:
I received a telephone call from Matt Leopold, General Counsel to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Mr. Leopold had watched the Board discussion of the Hughes Oil Well matter, appeared very concerned, and expressed a strong desire to avoid litigation. I advised Mr. Leopold that I was under Board direction to file a Petition seeking administrative relief. I then received a second call, this time with Mr. Leopold and an agency member, who requested that Commissioner Nance be conferenced into the call. After Commissioner Nance joined the call, I had an open and frank discussion of the matter with DEP, who requested that the case be mediated prior to the initiation of the Administrative action. It is DEP's expressed belief that everyone involved would be more likely to discuss the issue in full candor in a mediation setting, in which all conversations are confidential, but that once litigation is commenced this will become impossible. The Friday following the Board meeting, I forwarded a draft Petition to DEP, which was then forwarded to Hughes. That led to additional conversations, and at my request, DEP extended the County's time to file the Petition until May 15 to allow me to bring this issue to the Board today. Since that time, both DEP and Hughes have agreed to attend a Settlement Meeting (rather than mediation) with the County at DEP's Offices in Tallahassee. The Settlement Meeting would be held May 15th (conditioned on Board direction today) and I expect DEP to further extend the County's time to answer the Petition prior to the time this matter is heard. Because of timing and cost issues, the County Attorney concurs that this be handled as a settlement meeting rather than in a mediation setting.