Environmentalists are claiming victory over the Dan A. Hughes Co., which has been drilling for oil in an area of southwestern Florida next to a protected panther habitat near the Everglades. The company was using a banned technique to get access to shale oil.
On July 11, Hughes spokesperson David Blackmon said company executives had “assessed their capital budget and their prospects in other parts of the country and decided to allocate their resources to other project areas.”
The reaction from opponents of the drilling in Collier County was immediate. Some called the decision “tremendous.” One opponent said he was “pretty damned happy right now.”
The residents of a semi-rural housing development called Golden Gate Estates learned last year about Hughes’ plans to obtain a permit to drill in their neighborhood, when a Hughes subcontractor sent them letters about evacuation plans in case of an explosion at the drilling site, which is only a mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
The residents immediately formed Preserve Our Paradise, which opposed the project by holding demonstrations, sending letters of protest to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and expressing vocal opposition at a DEP hearing on whether to grant a permit to Hughes.
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Since 2009, the DEP has issued more than 40 permits to drill for oil in the state, including one for the Hughes project at the Collier Hogan well near Golden Gate Estates. It has denied zero applications. But in December 2013, the DEP ordered Hughes to stop operations there, saying it had violated the terms of its permit.
Hughes was allowed to inject acid to fracture limestone-trapping oil deep underground. The practice is called acid stimulation, which is akin but not identical to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But Hughes stepped beyond the permit and injected a proprietary, high-pressure mix of sand and chemical gel, called a “proppant,” to keep the fractured limestone open to help ease the flow of oil.
In April 2014 the DEP announced that the project had been shut down and that Hughes had agreed to pay a $25,000 fine, though it denied any wrongdoing. The agency also directed the company to test for any pollution in local groundwater.
Finally, on July 11, Hughes gave up on the project altogether, though it said it will continue operations at another Florida well that’s already producing oil.
Meanwhile, not all the local reaction to Hughes’ decision was jubilant. Resident Thomas Mosher, who lives near the now-abandoned drilling, worried that “there may be something else going on that hasn’t been revealed.”
And Joe D. Mulé of Preserve Our Paradise, an outspoken critic of the Collier Hogan well, said the company’s decision was only “a small victory. … This fight is far from over. We need to pass legislation in Collier County that bans fracking.”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com