NAPLES, Fla. — Although the company has long denied it fracked the controversial Collier-Hogan well, newly released documents show the Dan A. Hughes Co. received a “hydraulic fracture” proposal last October from the Halliburton Co.
The proposal is very similar to a controversial “acid stimulation” technique that a different company, Baker Hughes, proposed in December and eventually performed for Hughes at year’s end.
The Dan A. Hughes Co. confirmed Monday that Baker Hughes, an unrelated oil field services company, also used a different acid technique to increase production at the well in October.
The October procedure used a more traditional technique that does not fit the definition of fracking, which is the process of forcing water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into rocks deep underground. Fracking opens the rock, allowing chemicals to flow, and then keeps the fissures open. The October procedure did not use sand to keep the fissures open, but the December one did.
Although fracking is not prohibited by Florida law, the practice has drawn scrutiny nationwide.
Opponents of drilling in Southwest Florida say the documents call into question just what the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates drilling, knew about what was planned for the controversial well, and when.
“The DEP is disingenuous when it says it didn’t know what was going on at the well,” said Don Loritz, vice president of Preserve our Paradise, an environmental group that opposed the drilling at the well near Immokalee.
Preserve our Paradise recently obtained copies of the records when the Hughes Co. dropped its “trade secret” opposition to a public records lawsuit the group had filed against the DEP.
Although the Hughes Co. said Sept. 23 that it is exiting Florida and will cap the once-producing Collier-Hogan well, the question of what the DEP knew, and when, is still very much a live issue due to a spate of lawsuits over the procedure, known as a workover, to increase the well’s production.
Tensions began between the Hughes Co. and the DEP on Dec. 31, after the workover began. The regulatory agency immediately issued a cease-and-desist order.
On April 18, DEP announced it had finalized a consent order with Hughes, saying it had “caught the Dan A. Hughes Co. conducting unauthorized activities” after receiving a notice on Dec. 23 about the workover proposal submitted by Baker Hughes.
DEP added that the department “was not afforded the opportunity to complete its review of the proposed procedure before operations began.”
But Hughes Co. spokesman Lucas Frances denies the DEP was ever uninformed about its plans.
He said before the DEP was given notice Dec. 23, the company and the DEP had numerous discussions, including a face-to-face presentation the company made to DEP’s staff in Tallahassee on Nov. 4 about Halliburton’s proposal.
Moreover, he said the Hughes Co. had agreed to postpone the workover on several occasions at the DEP’s request.
“DEP had full knowledge of Hughes’ activities,” Frances said, adding the DEP had an inspector on site “before, during and after the workover.”
Because of ongoing litigation with the Hughes Co., DEP spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said the agency declined to comment.
Both the DEP and the Hughes Co. have long denied the “unauthorized activity” done was fracking.
But on Monday, Frances said “the procedure conducted by Hughes did create fractures in the rock.” The fractures were filled with 49,500 pounds of white sand, according to the proposal Baker Hughes submitted.
However, Frances defended the practice, saying “the accepted acid treatments conducted in Florida for the past 60 years also create fractures.”
But Loritz, with Preserve our Paradise, noted Baker Hughes’ technical specifications “are virtually identical to the earlier Halliburton hydraulic fracturing recommendation.”
Specifically, both the Halliburton and Baker Hughes documents proposed injecting chemically laden fluid at the same bottom-hole pressure of 9,427 pounds per square inch.
But Halliburton proposed using a 15 percent solution of hydrochloric acid while Baker Hughes actually used a weaker 10 percent hydrochloric acid solution.
Loritz said that even though the Collier-Hogan well will be capped, it’s important for the public to know what level of scrutiny the DEP is giving to exploratory drillers in Southwest Florida because of concerns about groundwater safety and other possible environmental impacts.
“We still don’t know what, if anything, the DEP did to ensure public safety as the plan was going forward,” Loritz said.