Earlier in 2014, Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Co. was fined $25,000 for acid fracking near the everglades. Though the method of using hydrofluoric acid to loosen limestone bedrock has been used for a while in Floridian oil drilling operations, injecting acid under pressure, or “acid fracking” is something new. In December, Dan A. Hughes Co. tested those waters Naples, Florida on the Western edge of the Everglades. Yeah, you read that correctly—they fracked the goddamned Everglades National Park; the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. And when State regulators asked them to stop? They ignored them.
Fracking (aka “hydraulic fracturing”) is a process that involves injecting millions of chemicals, water, and tons of silicosis-inducing silica sand into the ground to break apart fissures in shale rock to extract shale gas and/or oil. The earth-destroying process is most popular in Pennsylvania, Texas, and North Dakota. When a company puts the name “acid” in front of fracking—a topic just as touchy as Bill Cosby—the result can’t be too positive. When they disregard a governmental order to cease operation, it’s probably worse. Dan A. Hughes Co. says they weren’t technically fracking, but “technically” isn’t going to save a contaminated water supply.
“Within a matter of hours after we realized that the process was going forward, I issued a cease and desist order,” says Herschel Vinyard, secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. -via NPR
After they finished the job, they did what gas companies in Pennsylvania usually do when something explodes or catches fire: they apologized, signed a consent agreement, paid a slap-on-the-wrist fine of $25 grand, and installed groundwater monitors. Meanwhile, Collier County, Florida, which was already protesting the idea of the drilling, didn’t find out about the accident until a press release came out three months later; another common gas industry standard procedure. Not an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Department of Environmental Resources (DER) official, but a tiny press release.
Since the whole Deepwater Horizon disaster, folks in Florida have been pretty cautious of their groundwater. Which makes sense, because, you know, they need it to live. Understandably, if someone is doing something that can mess with your water supply, you’re going to get pretty pissed about it. The county commissioners asked for a public meeting with state officials and didn’t get one. Their main concern, other than the whole need water to live thing, is that the regulations on this industry are ancient and need to be updated to account for the new drilling technologies that hydraulic fracturing brings to the table, especially zoning laws that deal with residential neighborhoods.
“This horizontal drilling, the use of all of these chemicals, the high-pressure injection of those chemicals—that’s a whole different process than what we have traditionally seen here in Collier County, so we need to update the laws and regulations,” Hecker says. -via NPR
Preliminary results of the groundwater monitors show no evidence of contamination, but that doesn’t appease Jennifer Hecker the Director of Natural Resource Policy at of Southwest Florida, an environmental group in Naples. In her opinion, the state needs to install deeper water monitors that go below the aquifers where Florida draws most of its drinking water.
“Florida is home to scenic beaches, wonderful springs, and the legendary Everglades. This natural beauty, in turn, fosters a strong tourism industry, annually attracting many new residents to our shores. It must be preserved” said Senator Soto. “We Floridians also get the vast majority of our water supply from ground water through the Floridan Aquifer. This critical water source must be protected from pollution to assure ample, clean water for future generations.” -via CBS Miami
So the gist of what happened is that the Everglades got fracked, for sake of semantical argument, and you didn’t hear about it at all. But it wasn’t because the issue isn’t important, or because it wasn’t a huge deal. It was just because corporate interests spent more money than you did when you donated to that radio show or TV ad that never worked out. It was because the fossil fuel industry and others have so much money invested in these projects they want to be as sly and out-of-the-public-eye as possible.
Fortunately, these guys messed with the wrong part of the state of Florida and now more people are realizing that fossil fuel extraction commitments exist only to serve a small portion of people; a population that would risk the destruction of some of the most pristine places on this planet. A population that, by the way, when everything goes belly up, can probably hop the next flight to Mars and wave goodbye to Earth. For the rest of us, well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Photos by the author, and lead image via Shutterstock