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Fracking in Southwest Florida may still happen

Jan. 26, 2013
Dean Methner, an employee of Century Oil works on setting up an oil rig off of Corkscrew Road west of Immokalee.
Dean Methner, an employee of Century Oil works on setting up an oil rig off of Corkscrew Road west of Immokalee. / Andrew West/


Oil companies are showing interest in possibly fracking in Florida.

A public records request for inquiries about fracking since The News-Press published stories Oct. 7 about the possibilities of the controversial drilling technique coming to Florida shows Penn Virginia Oil & Gas Corp. sought regulatory information from the state Department of Environmental Protection in November, then pulled out.

Charity Fleenor, environmental and safety manager for the company, wrote Nov. 21: “My company – Penn Virginia Oil & Gas – is considering acquiring a leasehold in southern Florida for purposes of exploring and developing oil. My goal is to evaluate and understand the regulatory process for drilling, completing (by means of hydraulic fracturing) and producing oil and to do these things in an environmentally responsible manner.”

A face-to-face meeting was scheduled Dec. 13 between Penn Virginia and DEP in Tallahassee. But the company backed out because “another operator beat us to purchasing the leases” Fleenor wrote.

Fracking for oil and natural gas is pumping billions into government treasuries, residents’ pockets and energy company profits across the country, creating thousands of jobs, reducing reliance on foreign energy, and worrying critics about possible contamination to groundwater or surface water.

Fracking, formally called hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting a well with a cocktail of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure to fracture rock and access previously untapped reserves.

The lucrative results has prompted a fracking frenzy through North Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York, Wyoming, Colorado, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Montana, Texas and elsewhere.

Some operators say fracking is inevitable in South Florida; others say the geology isn’t quite right for the process to be effective. Fracking is allowable under state DEP rules and regulations, officials say.

Fleenor said she didn’t know the name of the operator who acquired the leases sought by Penn Virginia. “We’ve discontinued our efforts” she said. “It was just something we were evaluating.”

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But her Dec. 3 email to Ed Garrett, oil and gas section administrator for the mining and minerals regulation bureau of the DEP, stated: “We are still trying to acquire leases in southern Florida; therefore, I would like to postpone our meeting until we are ready to move forward.”

Garrett responded, “Sorry things didn’t work out for your company in Florida. Please look us up again if another opportunity comes up here.”

Municipalities and environmental groups in several states have mounted protests, tried to pass ordinances or place moratoriums on fracking.

In Florida, a three-month-old group called Floridians Against Fracking has a Facebook site where information from across the country and comments are shared.

The issue is a hot enough topic that the Southwest Florida Water Resources Conference, held Friday and Saturday in Fort Myers, included a session on the pros and cons of fracking and water use, and management in fracking.

Upper Sunniland Trend

In South Florida, oil drilling has been going on for decades in a swath of land called the Upper Sunniland Trend. The trend stretches 150 miles long from Fort Myers to Miami. It also runs through the 729,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve, the western end of the Everglades ecosystem.

But the fracking focus is on the lower, unexplored part of the Sunniland, at a depth reaching up to 17,000 feet.

Most of the mineral rights in the Sunniland Trend are owned by Collier Resources in Collier County. The company owns 800,000 acres of mineral rights across Southwest Florida, including 400,000 in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

Los Angeles-based Breitburn Energy leases the majority of Collier's mineral rights and 37,109 acres in the Sunniland Trend. “There’s nothing to report. We don’t have any current plans for fracking,” Greg Brown, Breitburn executive vice president, said late last week.

Brandt Temple, president and founder of Sunrise Exploration & Production of New Orleans, has put together eight-year leases for 135,000 acres in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties. “Oil and gas producers are in the infant stages of a new liquids-rich play in the South Florida basin that could revive the oil industry in rural-agricultural parts of South Florida," he wrote in a March story in Oil & Gas Journal. Temple, who said he would try conventional drilling methods before fracking, had been looking for an oil industry partner. He said in October 40 companies signed a non-compete agreement to look at the deal.

However, he changed his tune last week. Asked for an update on activity on his land and leases, he would only say, “I don’t believe hydraulic fracturing will be required in Florida. I don’t think that is what’s going to make the play work.”

He didn’t respond when asked why.

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