Florida: Collier County Goes To Court Over ‘Acid Fracking’ Near Everglades, charges that state regulators lax in oversight, jeopardizing public health and environment

Florida County Goes To Court Over ‘Acid Fracking’ Near Everglades by Greg Allen, July 2, 2014, npr.org
In southwest Florida, county officials are fighting the state over a new oil drilling process that’s known by many different names: acidification, acidizing, acid stimulation and acid fracking. Collier County has charged that state regulators have been lax in their oversight of the drilling, jeopardizing public health and the environment.

Acid has long been used in oil drilling operations in Florida to dissolve and loosen the limestone bedrock. But a drilling operation near Naples, on the western edge of the Everglades, was something new. In December, Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Co. injected acid under pressure there — a process not used before in Florida.

Florida regulators asked the drilling company to suspend the operation while the state studied the process. The company refused.

“Within a matter of hours after we realized that the process was going forward, I issued a cease and desist order,” says Herschel Vinyard, secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. Despite the cease and desist order, Vinyard says, the company continued the work anyway and completed its operation. Eventually, Florida and the driller signed a consent agreement, and the company agreed to pay a $25,000 fine and install groundwater monitors.

But in Collier County, where local officials, residents and environmental groups had already been raising concerns about the new drilling, the dispute between Hughes and the state remained secret. More than three months after the cease and desist order was issued, Collier County officials finally learned about it through a press release.

“One of the frustrations with the Board of County Commissioners is all of the information that we’ve been receiving has been through the media,” says Tim Nance, a Collier County commissioner.County commissioners asked state officials for a public meeting without success. Finally, Collier County went to court asking the state to revoke the oil driller’s permit. It’s similar to legal action to block fracking taken by local governments in other states like California, Colorado and New York. “Frankly, I’m very, very concerned about how well sites in the future that are near residential properties are going to be managed — because that’s my No. 1 concern,” Nance says.

To try to allay the concerns of county officials and residents, Florida’s Department of Environmental Resources recently installed its own groundwater monitors and says preliminary results show no evidence of contamination. Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, an environmental group, isn’t reassured. She says the state needs to install deeper monitors — below the aquifer where Florida draws most of its drinking water. [Emphasis added]

Claim that fracking is safe and well-regulated is unfounded by Anne Hartley, July 1, 2014, newspress.com
As a Collier County resident and environmental scientist, I have been following the responses of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Collier County commissioners, nonprofit organizations, and citizen groups to the unauthorized oil and gas drilling east of Golden Gate Estates by a Texas-based firm, the Dan A. Hughes Co.

Hughes’ drilling activities prompted FDEP to file a cease-and-desist order on Dec. 31, 2013. Details of the drilling operation were not provided in the April 2014 consent order, a legal document that describes the settlement reached by FDEP and Hughes. Exhibit 1 referenced a Florida statute that protects trade secrets.

On June 22, a consultant representing Hughes wrote that the company did not use hydraulic fracturing on the Collier Hogan 20-3H well. (“Hydraulic fracturing is legal, safe, well-regulated,” David Blackmon.) Hughes used an acid stimulation treatment, then injected “sand mixed with a gel solution into the formation in order to hold open the channels that had been created by the acid treatment.”

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) involves pumping millions of gallons of water into an oil or gas well at high pressure to fracture the rock to allow water or gas to flow to the well bore. Chemical additives to the water include acids, propping agents, such as sand to keep fractures open once they are produced under pressure, gelling agents, friction reducers, surfactants, corrosion inhibitors, and antibacterial agents.

In its June 12 challenge to the consent order, Collier County commissioners petitioned FDEP to hold a public administrative hearing that will give Hughes an opportunity to clarify how its practices differ from hydraulic fracturing, and to explain its future plans for drilling and environmental monitoring.

Hughes’ claim that hydraulic fracturing is “very safe and well-regulated” is unfounded. EPA has not regulated hydraulic fracturing under the U.S. Safe Water Drinking Act. No plan exists to systematically sample drinking water wells and deep formation waters for contaminants. Companies are not required to disclose chemicals under federal or state law.

The EPA will soon release a study of hydraulic fracturing impacts on drinking water, specifically, the impacts of large volume water withdrawals on ground and surface waters; surface spills on or near well pads of drilling chemicals, flow back, and produced water; impacts of injection and fracturing; and inadequately treated wastewater. Duke University researchers reported that incomplete wastewater treatment from hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction damaged water quality in Pennsylvania. Impacts of nonconventional drilling on Florida geology and hydrology remain unstudied.

Hughes is permitted to drill in the Lower Sunniland formation, a porous, carbonate substrate. Carbonate rocks are readily dissolved by acids. Rainwater acidity is sufficient to dissolve limestone, creating sinkholes at the surface. Drilling practices that are “well within the scope of operations being performed in states like Texas, Pennsylvania and North Dakota” may not be safe in Florida.

In the consent order, Hughes agreed to supply information to the FDEP, including material safety data sheets for all chemicals used in the operation, proportion and volume of chemicals used, total volume of water used, total volume and management of flow-back material used, and provide an interim spill prevention and cleanup plan. FDEP may now have much of that information, but it has not yet agreed to the public hearing requested by the county.

Collier commissioners objected unanimously to the permit, and to the violations of Hughes.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has also called for a more transparent process, the revocation of Hughes’ permit, and recommends additional remediation and financial commitments to address the unauthorized activities.

Citizens groups are asking salient questions. How different was the unauthorized drilling activity from hydraulic fracturing, or even from the first acid extraction Hughes used? Why is well water being tested almost six months after the operation? Why will FDEP not attend a public hearing?

A single, positive outcome for a well water test does not prove the process is safe. If water is tested too infrequently, at the incorrect depth, or if undisclosed chemicals are omitted from the analysis, test results will be misleading.

Commissioner Fred Coyle captured the significance of this case: “What we do now is going to set the stage for the next 20-25 years.” The time to regulate oil and gas drilling is not after the next chemical spill or gas leak or sinkhole appearance. FDEP should work closely with commissioners, in a public administrative hearing, to strengthen the regulatory process.

Anne Hartley is associate professor in the Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences at FGCU. Her field of expertise is terrestrial biogeochemistry. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

September 5, 2013: Fracking’s More Dangerous Bedfellow: Acidizing; Halliburton Introduces Technology to Control Fracture Face Damage and Help Improve Production from Unconventional Reservoirs

September 25, 2006: Halliburton Introduces Technology to Control Fracture Face Damage and Help Improve Production from Unconventional Reservoirs Press Release by Halliburton

Halliburton’s (NYSE:HAL) Production Optimization Division has added a breakthrough technology to its suite of stimulation products, GasPerm 1000(SM) service. GasPerm 1000 service helps improve production from unconventional reservoirs including tight gas, shales and coalbed methane. Based on a newly developed microemulsion surfactant, the service helps remove water drawn into the formation during the fracturing process. Removing the water can improve permeability to gas at the fracture face and help increase gas production. In addition, GasPerm 1000 service represents a safety and environmental advancement, replacing methanol in many applications. “Halliburton has focused our top researchers on developing technology to help operators achieve better results from unconventional reservoirs and GasPerm 1000 service is the initial result of this research,” said Jim Prestidge, vice president within the Production Optimization Division“The characteristics of unconventional reservoirs pose unique challenges, particularly in the area of controlling fracture face damage. GasPerm 1000 service technology was developed to help achieve maximum production following a fracturing treatment and with the focus on environmental sustainability, our constant guiding principle as we develop new chemicals.” …

In Canada, coalbed methane production is growing extremely fast. Production from gas shales, such as the Barnett formation, has shown exponential growth in the past five years. Fracturing will continue to play a major role in coaxing production from these reservoirs.

In the fracturing process, water can be drawn (imbibed) into the
formation from the fluid used to create the fracture. The water drawn
into the pore spaces is held there by capillary pressure and surface
tension and can block gases from flowing into the wellbore.  Commonly called “water block,” this process is especially pronounced in unconventional gas reservoirs where the lower permeability results in increased capillary pressure. GasPerm 1000 service has been shown to enable the imbibed liquids to be expelled from the rock matrix and fracture system, thereby enabling improved gas production.

From both an environmental and safety perspective, GasPerm 1000(tm) additive can be used in place of methanol. When run as an additive at field use concentration, the GasPerm 1000 additive reduces flammability risk as compared to methanol at concentrations typically used for water block treatment applications. A comparison test performed in an ultra-low perm tight gas sand formation from the Rockies demonstrated that under comparable conditions, the formulation containing GasPerm 1000 additive outperformed a conventional methanol-based formulation. GasPerm 1000 additive is compatible with both acidic and basic fluid systems and is used as an acidizing additive or fracturing fluid additive. [Emphasis added]

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