Backyard drilling may be coming soon to a Naples neighborhood; residents fear fracking

06/10/13 Janelle Irwin
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A Texas-based company has filed an application with the state to drill just outside a residential neighborhood in Naples. People who live in the Golden Gate Estates neighborhood in Collier County want the project moved out of their backyard. Jaime Duran owns the closest home to the proposed oil and natural gas well. He said he and his wife knew nothing of the proposal until they received a letter asking them for household information.

“She told us that they were putting together a contingency plan in the event of an explosion or a gas leak from a well that they were planning to drill about 2/10 of a mile from our house. It was shock.”

The letter came from a company called Total Safety U.S. that is also based in Texas. The letter asked residents for contact information and whether or not they had transportation to get out of the neighborhood in the case of an emergency. The Duran family thought it was a company simply mining for personal information. When they found out it wasn’t, Duran along with other residents jumped to action and formed a group called Preserve our Paradise. They’re

“This is a residential street – not even paved.”

“The main street to access this area is a collection of school bus stops. Four times a day, school buses pick up and drop off children on a road that is actually very narrow.”

Duran calls the trucks that could at some point carry oil out of the neighborhood rolling bombs. But that’s not residents’ only concern. Mike Bosi is the planning and zoning director for Collier County. Members of his staff attended a meeting with the Golden Gate Estates civic association last month and have been fielding calls from other concerned residents.

“The greatest concern we hear from the residents is the protection of the groundwater, drinking water supply.”

But the decision whether or not to allow drilling next to the suburban neighborhood doesn’t lie with the county. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has the sole authority to approve or deny the permits being sought by the Dan A. Hughes Company. Ed Garret, the administrator of the DEP’s oil and gas program said two state permits have been approved for drilling near Golden Gate Estates.

“That an application – a package is submitted to us with a fee, an organization report that tells us about the company, a bond or some other type of assurity (sic) and then – I probably shouldn’t try to list them all – but there are maybe ten or fifteen types of plans and reports that have to be submitted to show that the applicant can follow the rules; the chief amongst those are the casing and cementing plans, the site construction plans, drilling plans and the H2S contingency plans – if applicable.”

That contingency plan was applicable and is what led to residents concerns when they received the Total Safety letter. The Hughes Company later issued an apology saying it was a pre-fabbed form letter that should have contained more information. Residents were told the DEP was not obligated to inform residents. The DEP’s Garrett said that’s true, but the department usually only notifies local governments.

“We usually don’t because most of our wells are on uninhabited areas.”

But during the same interview with WMNF, Garrett later contradicted that statement.

“Drilling sites that close to houses and other human structures are not unusual. Our rules don’t make provisions for the safety plan to be any more stringent or less so whether or not it’s close or far from dwellings.”

He clarified by saying drilling is most common on uninhabited land, but that doesn’t mean areas near human occupied structures are off limits to oil companies. Rodrigo Palacios, a resident of a nearby neighborhood, said up until now drilling next to homes has been rare.

“But the main issue is that most exploration has occurred in relatively rural areas, far from any sort of home or human interactions.”

Drilling has happened before in Collier County. A road about a half mile away from the neighborhood is called Oil Well Road and was the site of drilling in the 40s. Residents are also worried that a new well could lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That’s a process critics say is dangerous because it pumps water and chemicals into underground rock formations causing them to crack and release oil. The DEP’s Garrett said that’s not something likely to happen in South Florida.

“The type of rock that the target formation is made of is carbonate, limestone and dolamite and that’s not normally the candidate type of rock that oil companies consider the best for hydraulic fracturing.”

But Preserve our Paradise organizer Ellen Hemrick thinks it’s still an option because the Hughes Company is known for selling wells to companies who frack.

“Many geologists are reassuring us that there’s no need to have to frack this particular kind of layer of the earth, but we’ve also seen reports from other geologists that say that if there’s anywhere in Florida that could be fracked, it’s actually this particular area.”

The Texas oil company has extended its permitting window for thirty days to allow for more public comment. The group will meet Tuesday night for another public meeting on the issue.

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I began to worry about fracking in Florida when bills were introduced in the state legislature last spring to allow fracking in FL state parks. That particular bill was denied, but a continuing bill to allow fracking in the Blackwater River State Park north of Pensacola continued. I wanted to see the river for myself, so I went camping and floated the river. The river is crystal clear pristine, obviously spring fed and full of wildlife. State Representative Doug Broxson has put forth a bill – House 431 – that would allow for drilling in the state park. Milton resident Marsha Fuqua has put together a petition and Facebook community, , aimed at stopping Rep. Broxson’s bill. When I began to ask people in Lee and Collier County if they knew about this, no one was paying attention, and I got many comments like, "No, they are not going to frack in Florida. We do not have the geology for it." Well, apparently we just might, considering the vast amounts of sand and water required for the process. I attended the emergency town-hall meeting in Naples last week, and heard the Hughes oil representative say they expected to drill horizontally. When I research horizontal drilling, I read that it could extend for miles. He also claimed they would not have to frack because the limestone does not require fracking. What if they hit a rock formation that might require fracking after they have drilled a 1/2 mile? Will they just stop and abandon that particular portion of the horizontal exploration? Would these extensive exploratory horizontal drills occur under residential structures and wells? I live in Lee County, and yesterday I met someone from Jacksonville, FL who recently visited Scotland (yes, Scotland in Europe). The rumor he is carrying is that fracking is a huge topic of conversation in Scotland and Florida is frequently mentioned as the next pot of black gold. We must stay alert and active before we are literally sucked into the vortex of drilling for the last drop and more homes disappear into smelly, creepy sinkholes oozing methane gases.