Dropping Acid in the Everglades: Fracking War Drags On in Collier County (UPDATED)
The battle over oil drilling in the Everglades rolls on, having taken several new turns since mid-June, when officials with the Department of Environmental Protection tried to bully Collier County officials into dropping a lawsuit over a controversial oil-drilling operation in the Big Cypress Swamp watershed.
Since its attempted shoe/foot reverse double twist of June 10 -- in which the DEP accused Collier County of "thwart[ing]" regulation of Texas driller Dan A. Hughes Co., which had been cited for unauthorized acid fracking -- the state has switched to good-cop mode, with DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard singing Kumbaya to one and all.
June 13: Vinyard writes to Collier County Commission Chair Tom Henning that the DEP is "committed to working with you and the county commission to protect the families of Collier County and to be good stewards of Florida's natural resources."
to provide additional groundwater testing, upon receiving permission, at alternative sites near the drilling locations to fully ensure the safety of all the families in Collier County.
June 17: Vinyard meets privately with Henning. According to the Naples Daily News:
When asked why Monday's meeting wasn't open to the public, Vinyard said the state had already sent department geologist Ed Garrett to several public meetings in Collier County. "We had the state's top oil and gas regulator down in the area on three separate occasions for public meetings," Vinyard said. "He was very knowledgeable of the program and answered many of the questions folks have. Now the chairman has some questions, and we're going to make certain we're meeting the county's needs in an open and transparent way." Henning... declined multiple requests for comment.
June 18: Vinyard writes to the Hughes and Collier companies, informs them "there is a lack of clarity on your activities," and insists they "hold at least three public meetings to discuss and take public comment on your plans for the Collier-Hogan site, and plans for all other current and future energy operations in Collier County."
June 19: Just in case anyone missed the point, the DEP announces that it will "implement all of the County's requests related to the Collier-Hogan well." Vinyard asks Collier County officials to join a group hug with the agency and the oil company and sign off on a settlement of matters.
June 23-25: Groundwater sampling at the acid-fracked well begins. But in a most unfortunate,
unforeseeable turn of events and despite Vinyard's promise that "results will be shared in an expeditious and transparent manner," the Hughes and Collier companies deny media access to the site.
In response, Vinyard says he will pretty-please the drillers to open up. He leads a DEP flying squad to Collier County to answer questions. Local citizens try to participate and claim to have been "kicked to the curb."
June 27: The DEP joins with Dan A. Hughes Co. to beat back Collier residents' legal efforts to block permitting of a second Hughes well, one adjoining Naples' Golden Gates neighborhood.
June 28: Fracking protests spread to Lee County.
April 19 (flashback): Collier Co. spokesman crosses heart, swears on Bible:
UPDATE: In a Facebook message, Collier County environmental activist Dr. Karen Dwyer wrote:
The DEP has NEVER met with the public regarding the illegally fracking Collier Hogan well and has not answered our questions. The announced "press conferences" devolved into a game of cat and mouse, with the press trying to locate the DEP who kept moving from place to place and would only talk with press one reporter at a time, via telephone or prearranged, last minute meetings. DEP refused to meet with public or answer their submitted questions. Smoke and mirrors. No transparency and no credible and comprehensive third-party water testing.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.