Critical groundwater sampling just began a week ago at the Hogan well, where unauthorized fracking had occurred more than a year and a half ago. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had withheld authorization of the technique due to concerns about its potential impact on groundwater resources. Yet, after it occurred, the DEP only did minimal shallow groundwater testing at around 13 feet – even though the fracking chemicals were injected thousands of feet underground.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida insisted that meaningful groundwater testing for potential contamination be done and then entered into a legal agreement that required DEP to conduct deep groundwater testing to approximately 1,850 feet no later than February 2015. We are pleased to see that DEP has now completed its first round of sampling in a deep groundwater monitoring well; however, we are disappointed that the results come over a year and a half after the fracking operation and roughly 6 months after the deadline in our legal agreement. This is a tremendously long time for citizens to wait for monitoring for potential contamination of drinking water supply sources.
This meaningful groundwater investigation is crucially important; however this sampling is not without limitations. For instance, the significant delay of time between the fracking operation and the sampling means that there was ample time for pollution to potentially be dispersed and diluted. Alternatively, the possible migration of pollution from such a great depth could take even longer than the year and a half that has elapsed. For this reason, the initial results will not be conclusive and DEP has committed to ongoing monitoring for another five years from when the Hogan well is plugged.
Other Outstanding Issues with the Hogan well
Other potential contamination risks are still present at the Hogan well site and must be addressed. The State’s consultant acknowledged in an assessment of the Hogan well site that a nearby abandoned well may present a risk of saltwater intrusion into fresh groundwater and should be re-plugged. The Department has yet to act on this recommendation. This is a crucial next step to prevent potential future contamination of water supply sources.
The fracking operation at the Hogan well highlights the need to immediately suspend the use of all unproven unconventional drilling techniques. The state is not currently prepared to respond to unconventional oil extraction proposals. This was demonstrated by DEP’s request for an extended review period of the December 2013 fracking proposal for the Hogan well. When DEP’s request was ignored and fracking occurred, DEP was unable to promptly initiate groundwater monitoring, leaving citizens at risk.
Furthermore, the State’s review of this operation found several problems with the installation of the Hogan well. Florida’s geology poses added challenges in well construction due to it being naturally fractured. This makes it difficult to properly install well casings to protect water supplies. Unconventional extraction including hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing and acid stimulation with fracking chemicals should not continue to be allowed in the absence of science and regulatory safeguards to protect water supply sources from any potential contamination.