Sen. Nelson asks feds to investigate after “unauthorized” drilling near Everglades

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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is calling on the nation’s environmental chief to scrutinize oil drilling activities by a Texas-based company caught in what has been described as fracking at a well site in South Florida – in the shadow of the Everglades.

“We cannot tolerate expanded industrial drilling activities that pose a threat to the drinking and surface water so close to the Florida Everglades,” Nelson wrote in a letter today to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.  “The recent discovery of a fracking-like incident there raises serious concerns about whether outside wildcatters would soil one of the world’s great environmental treasures.”

Though the incident occurred several months ago, it came to light only recently.  The company involved has agreed to a $25,000 settlement with the state Department of Environmental Protection.  It is also being challenged by local residents opposed to plans for drilling at another Collier County site.

That company, the Dan A. Hughes Co. of Beeville, Texas, has leased about 115,000 acres of mineral rights from Collier Resources Company, which controls about 800,000 acres in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties. In the past few years, according to published accounts, oil companies have been obtaining mineral rights in counties that border the Everglades for speculative drilling and testing.

In just the past year and a half, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has granted about a dozen permits there.

Nelson, a longtime advocate and supporter of a massive federal-state project to restore the Everglades, told the EPA’s McCarthy that some local leaders and residents are growing increasingly concerned.  They found out about the December “unauthorized” drilling incident months after the fact.  And in response, Collier County commissioners just last week directed the county attorney to ask the state to consider revoking a permit it gave Hughes last year.

Nelson noted in his letter to McCarthy that the EPA has control over additional permits companies need to dispose of a drilling by-product by injecting it back into the ground beneath the area’s drinking water supply.  The EPA gave Hughes one permit already and is currently considering a second application after giving the public extended time for comment.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.