(Photo: Andrew West/News-Press)
County to ask for administrative hearing against DEP, Hughes Company over violations
DEP offered mitigation and settlement talks, but Collier board opts for public hearing
Conservancy will join in eventual administrative action
Collier County will challenge the state on its settlement over claimed drilling violations.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Collier County commission voted to request an administrative hearing from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to protest a consent order between the agency and a Texas drilling company over an unauthorized fracking-like procedure.
The county wants the DEP to revoke the Dan A. Hughes Co.’s permit, or at least amend it with stricter terms.
“What we do now is going to set the stage for what happens over the next 20-25 years,” Commissioner Fred Coyle said. “Pumping chemicals into the ground to extract oil in Collier County has serious implications for our residents.”
Once filed, the DEP will review the county’s petition to determine if it has legal standing for an administrative review. If so, the case will be forwarded to the state Division of Administrative Hearings.
Prior to the meeting, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida announced it would intervene in any administrative law action.
Fred Coyle(Photo: Special to news-press.com)
“We are now assured of a public process, and that’s a win for the public,” said Robert Moher, president and CEO of the conservancy.
Last month the DEP fined Hughes $25,000 and ordered it to hire a third party to determine if its activities contaminated Collier aquifers.
The order came in response to an “enhanced extraction procedure” the company used at its Collier-Hogan well southwest of Lake Trafford this winter.
The procedure hadn’t been used before in Florida and a description provided by DEP resembles hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The company denies that claim, but agreed to halt new operations earlier this month.
In its meeting in April, the board instructed County Attorney Jeff Katzlow to draft a formal petition to the state. After that meeting Katzlow was contacted by DEP’s general council about arranging private settlement talks with the agency and the company in Tallahassee to mitigate county concerns, according to county documents.
Katzlow brought this offer before the board Tuesday for approval.
“We need to challenge their permit to find out what the effects were, on the ground,” said Commissioner Tom Henning.
Before the board voted, the Conservancy spoke about what its own investigations had found, including an improperly sealed oil well from 1948 less than 200 feet from the Collier-Hogan’s drilling vector.
The unsealed well extends thousands of feet underground and could provide a corridor for drilling chemicals to bypass containing rock layers into aquifers, said Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy for the conservancy.
Special thanks to Roger Dobrynyi