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State Environmental Chief Visits Collier County Commissioners To Discuss Fracking Incident

DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard with Collier County residents.
Ashley Lopez
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard with Collier County residents.
Credit Ashley Lopez / WGCU
The Florida Channel
DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard with Collier County residents.

County and state officials are still grappling over how to deal with afracking-likeincident in Collier County a few months ago.

The state’s environmental regulation chief visited Naples Tuesday to meet with angry residents and county officials, but the visit did little to ease concerns.

Too Little, Too Late

Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Herschel Vinyard stopped by a Commission meeting to share his most recent efforts to hold the Dan A. Hughes Company and Collier Resources accountable for unauthorized drilling near Lake Trafford.

However, Collier County Commissioner Georgia Hiller said DEP waited too long to step in.

“DEP has failed us,” Hiller said. “It is unacceptable. This is not a local issue. It’s the state’s responsibility.”

Vinyard recently sent a list of demands to both companies months after the state finalized a Consent Order penalizing Dan A. Hughes. County officials have since legally challenged the Consent Order.

Among other things, Vinyard demanded Dan A. Hughes hold public meetings with residents. He also added extra water monitoring and well site regulations. Vinyard said he’s going to use everything in his power to fix the situation.

“It’s important that we continue to work with local government and local stakeholders to get to the right answer,” he said.

But, county officials and water policy experts such as Jennifer Hecker with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida have said it’s too late.

“They cannot now after the fact add additional enforcement terms without that consent order being overturned by DEP or without Dan A. Hughes voluntarily complying with these additional terms,” Hecker said.

The DEP asked Dan A. Hughes to attend the Commission meeting, but no representatives made an appearance. Hecker said it’s an example of DEP’s limited legal power. Commissioner Hiller called Vinyard’s appearance a “PR attempt” to excuse the agency’s delayed response. 

Florida’s Oil and Gas Laws

During his stop Vinyard also discussed the state’s current oil laws.

Environmental policy experts have long argued the state needs to take a closer look at its oil and gas extraction laws.

Technology has changed a lot in the past several years. Oil and gas companies are looking to use procedures similar to fracking – as well as horizontal drilling-- to explore for oil in Florida.

Jennifer Hecker with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida said even though technology has evolved, the state’s laws have not.

“In the state of Florida, there are no fracking regulations,” Hecker explained. “Our oil and gas regulations are antiquated. They are decades old. Now we need updated regulations that really speak to these newer techniques.”

Vinyard said he thinks state lawmakers will tackle oil regulations next year.

“We expect that the 2015 Florida Legislature will examine their statutes to determine whether or not the laws they passed maybe 20 or 30 years ago are up to date and properly address the oil and gas industry of 2014,” Vinyard said.

Several fracking and oil related bills failed to pass in the Florida Legislature in the past few years.

Vinyard also announced his agency is starting a statewide oil well inspection program. He said regulators will inspect about 200 oil wells currently operating in Florida.

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.