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Alarm Rises on Everglades Drilling

Texas wildcatters have moved into the fragile wetlands and wildlife refuges in Collier County, part of the Everglades, where a mini-oil rush is under way, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.  While some in Florida back the move in the  name of energy-independence, environmental groups say weak regulation risks not only the ecosystem but the drinking water supply.

Dan A. Hughes Co. of Texas, which already produces oil from one well and plans two others, got into trouble for using high-pressure injections of toxic chemicals and water -- akin to the controversial "fracking" that blows shale apart to extract the oil -- without state permission, the Sun Sentinel reports. Florida's Department of Environmental Protection fined the company the highest amount allowed, $25,000, and Hughes suspended the horizontal test, but continues  to drill near the Panther Refuge.

Two weeks ago, the Sun Sentinel reports, the state tested the groundwater near the Hughes well and found no problem, but could not test the wastewater for toxic chemicals because the company had trucked it away.  DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr. on Thursday sent a letter to the company demanding an explanation.

State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said on Facebook Sunday that the Republican-led legislature and Gov. Rick Scott have spent three years gradually dismantling protections for Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades and passing bills for "incentivized fracking."

"Many folks voted for tax breaks and fracking, a little bit at a time," Pafford wrote. "Now, it's here. I get angry when I think about it."