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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Keep the Frack Out of Florida Water

Oct 01, 2014 03:42PM

On March 11, from 4 to 8:30 p.m., a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) public hearing at the Golden Gate Community Center auditorium could determine the future of Florida’s water.

“We need as many people as possible at the hearing to create critical mass, because the level of interest will determine the EPA’s actions,” says Karen Dwyer, with the Stone Crab Alliance (formerly Preserve Our Paradise). The group formed in response to the announcement that the Dan A. Hughes Company, of Beeville, Texas, was seeking permits to drill a 13,900-foot exploratory well near 24th Avenue Southeast and Desoto Boulevard, a residential area adjacent to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

Residents are concerned about the possibility of future acid fracking and hydraulic fracturing, as well as the contamination of their water, increases in noise and traffic, the disruption of infrastructure, threats to safety and health, environmental degradation and habitat fragmentation.

The drill site is a small part of the 115,000-acre parcel that Hughes Company leased for oil exploration from Collier Resources, which owns more than 800,000 acres of mineral rights. The Hughes’ five-year lease, which can be extended, includes large portions of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed and the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with some of the last old-growth cypress trees in Florida. According to Dwyer, environmental groups are concerned that if the company is allowed to drill, more oil and gas drillers will be drawn to the Everglades.

Collier Resources recently issued two more leases for seismic testing operations to identify more locations for drilling. Tocala LLC, of Ridgeland, Mississippi, acquired a lease for 103,000 acres, while the second lease, held by the Burnett Oil Company, of Fort Worth, Texas, will include 234,510 acres in the Big Cypress National Preserve—the most important piece of contiguous primary panther habitat remaining in the western Everglades.

Matthew Schwartz, with the South Florida Wildlands Association, whose primary concern is the endangered Florida panther, reports that both operations will involve driving off-road vehicles through wetlands and other habitat types, drilling thousands of holes, setting off dynamite charges, and “listening” with vast arrays of geophones to what is at or below depths of 13,000 feet. “This is not geological research. The leases are awarded to oil drilling companies who intend to set up roads, wells and large-scale extraction operations once deposits have been located,” advises Schwartz.

Extreme extraction violates the most basic of all human rights—access to clean water and clean air. Each well is permitted to use 5 million gallons of water monthly. Unlike agricultural water, permanently polluted drilling water cannot be reused and must be injected into the boulder zone. “Given the worldwide water scarcity and annual water restrictions in South Florida, it is extremely negligent to permit the oil industry to destroy so much fresh water. The pumping of Florida aquifers threatens to dry up nearby wells and wetlands. The effect of thousands of wells on this 115,000-acre parcel, and even more, now that Collier Resources is developing all of its 800,000 acres of mineral rights, could be catastrophic,” comments Dwyer.

The EPA, which has invited the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Dan A. Hughes Company and other stakeholders, is flying in from Atlanta to hold an informational meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. and the public hearing from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

“While there is a wide array of Florida groups (Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Food and Water Watch, Environment Florida, Gulf Restoration Network, Re-Think Paradise, Save the Caloosahatchee River, Greenpeace, Pax Christi and others) mobilizing for the hearing on the Class II water waste injection permit, we still need as many individuals as possible,” advises Dwyer. To request to speak or submit comments, email [email protected]

For more information, call 508-847-6992 or visit

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