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Lax drilling legislation poses threat to Southwest Florida water supply, environmental advocate says

NAPLES, Fla. — Lawmakers need to shore up rules to prevent another debacle like the one that happened at the Collier Hogan well at the end of 2013, an environmental advocate said Monday.

At a luncheon at Hilton Naples, Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, told more than 50 League of Women Voters members that lax legislation on drilling on the local, state and federal level poses a threat to the supply as well as the quality of the region’s drinking water.

“We’re seeing huge new water uses that could disrupt the area’s hydrology,” said Hecker, adding once the aquifers are ruined, no amount of money can restore them.

Hecker recapped the history of the oil industry in Southwest Florida, which began in the 1940s but has seen an uptick in activity over the past five years, when 37 drilling permits were granted; two were later withdrawn.

Drilling has come under more scrutiny over the past year because of the Collier Hogan well, south of Lake Trafford, which the Dan A. Hughes Company fracked at the end of 2013.

The practice, which resulted in public outcry, a spate of lawsuits and the eventual shut down of the well, has put the spotlight on so-called “extreme extraction techniques” that are new to Southwest Florida. Fracking, which is used to stimulate a well that’s stopped producing, uses chemically treated fluid under pressure to force open fissures in rocks, which are then propped open with sand.

Although it is not illegal in Florida, Hecker said, fracking uses large quantities of water — in the case of the Collier Hogan well, 662,000 gallons, instead of the 280,000 gallons permitted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. But since workovers only require drillers to notify the state, and not get a new permit, the current law allows them to “change technicalities after the fact,” she said.

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If fracking becomes more common, that could create problems for the region’s water supply since the populace is using about as much water as rainfall currently supplies, she said. In the case of the Collier Hogan well, water for fracking was pulled from the area’s drinking water aquifer rather than brackish or reclaimed sources.

“Why are we giving our cheapest and best water away for industrial use?” she said.

Hecker also detailed her organization’s efforts to beef up legislation that would:

Better inform the public about what chemicals are being used during workover procedures

Give the DEP authority to inspect drilling sites at any time without the landowner’s or the driller’s permission

Provide more protection to people who live near wells, which can emit methane and other gases, and

Encourage drillers to behave responsibly by raising fine and bond levels.

Hecker emphasized that she respects the right of mineral right holders to extract minerals, but their rights must be balanced against the rights of private property owners as well as the general public.

Before fracking and other unconventional extraction techniques are allowed in Southwest Florida, “we should first study the potential impacts — and not study them after the fact,” she said.


This article was written by June Fletcher from Naples Daily News, Fla. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.