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DEP:Dan A. Hughes Co. is accountable

--Guest commentary--

July 15, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Nothing brings more joy to my job than to see the passion so many Floridians share when it comes to protecting our state's natural resources. I applaud that passion. I respect that passion. I share that passion.

That is why the Department of Environmental Protection has taken such extraordinary steps to match that passion from residents in southwest Florida who have voiced their concerns over unauthorized actions at the Collier-Hogan well in Collier County.

We will hold the Dan A. Hughes Company and Collier Resources accountable for those actions. That is our job as the stewards of Florida's natural resources. And we will continue to do our job just as we have done throughout this entire process.

Back in December, DEP issued a cease-and-desist order within hours of becoming aware of the use of an unauthorized acid treatment during drilling activities at the Collier-Hogan well. We then entered into a Consent Order in April following the Dan A. Hughes Company's violation of that order.

We have fined the Dan A. Hughes Co. the maximum penalty allowable under Florida law. And we have now issued a list of demands that the company must meet by July 15. (ed. note: demands not met prior to deadline)

Those demands were shared with members of the Collier County Commission during Tuesday's meeting.

Within those demands, we ordered Dan A. Hughes to hold three public meetings to discuss and take public comment on the company's plans for the Collier-Hogan site and future operations in the county.

We ordered the company to explain why DEP was not allowed to test samples of flow-back material that was trucked off the Collier-Hogan site prior to June 23. We demanded that Hughes prove this flow-back material is being disposed of in an appropriate manner. Our concern then, as it remains today, is for DEP to know exactly what material is present on the site.

We specified additional obligations that Hughes must adhere to that include revisions in groundwater monitoring as well as providing detailed information on the company's employees responsible for ensuring on-site compliance.

As we shared with the Collier County Commission during Tuesday's meeting, DEP is performing inspections on all of the 200 oil wells within the state a process we expect to complete by September.

DEP will take even more steps to address public concerns over the depth of groundwater monitoring wells and the monitoring of wastewater disposal. This includes DEP personnel drilling our own deepwater sampling well to ensure that the groundwater at the site has not been impacted.

In addition, we are compiling a list of nationally recognized experts in the oil and gas industry who will monitor activities at the Collier-Hogan site. These experts will be screened to make sure they have no known conflicts of interest as it relates to the oil and gas industry in Florida. Their names will be presented to both the Commission and to the Dan A. Hughes Company for approval.

Florida's environmental law requires the responsible party be held accountable for any negative environmental impacts as a result of their activities. As a result, Florida law does not and should not - require the taxpayers to foot the bill for a private company's bad actions. This principle is embedded in many laws and rules of DEP, and in this case, the Dan A. Hughes Company and Collier Resources are responsible for fully funding all current and future monitoring at the Collier-Hogan site. ??As we have said repeatedly throughout this process, DEP will hold the Dan A. Hughes Company accountable for its actions. The demands we have made are not negotiable. We are fully assessing any and all actions at our disposal to bring the Dan A. Hughes Company into compliance with the law and we will be prepared to act.

--Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. is the Department of Environmental Protection secretary.



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