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Jul 16, 2:14 PM EDT

Fla. to sue oil company for drilling violations



GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's environmental agency says it is suing a Texas oil company for violating state drilling regulations at a well near the Everglades.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday that it would file a lawsuit against Dan A. Hughes Co. for using a fracking-like oil recovery practice at its Collier-Hogan well, located near endangered Florida panther habitat.

The issue first bubbled up publicly in December, after DEP learned the company was using a process called "acid stimulation," during which acid is pumped into the well to help loosen up blockages and improve the flow of oil. The DEP says the company didn't wait for state approval to use acid stimulation before moving ahead with the process.

After Collier County leaders and others voiced concerns about the practice's effects on water supplies, the DEP issued a cease-and-desist order for the well.

DEP said the company has also refused to allow the state to test samples of wastewater from the site and that it had ordered Hughes to revise its groundwater monitoring practices, which wasn't followed.

"It is clear that the company has not taken seriously the department's demands to protect Collier County families or Florida's natural resources," DEP secretary Herschel Vinyard said in a statement.

The lawsuit says DEP is seeking to halt operations at the well "until pending completion of appropriate environmental testing." The company isn't waiting for that. Hughes Co. said Tuesday that it was shutting down operations at the well.

Hughes Co. also previously abandoned plans for two other exploratory oil wells in the area. Company spokesman David Blackmon said DEP had not informed them of their intent to sue, and didn't know what regulations the state believes were violated.

"I'm not sure what to make of the announcement, but early yesterday morning the DEP was notified that the company intended to shut in the well," he said. "To this day, the company is not accused of any violations of Florida regulations or laws."

Collier Resources Co., which owns the land where the Hughes well is located, said in a letter to county officials on July 11 that it had terminated most mineral lease agreements with Hughes, except for the Collier-Hogan well. It also volunteered to pay for testing to address public concerns over drilling activities at the site.

State officials have since conducted groundwater tests in the area and have found no signs of contamination.

DEP press secretary Tiffany Cowie says the company's shutdown of the well does not change the agency's plan to sue.

Meantime, environmentalists applauded the company's plans to shut the well and the state's regulatory actions, but said the situation highlights lapses in state oil drilling regulations that allowed the acid stimulation to happen.

"This situation boldly highlights the broader legal and regulatory deficiencies that must be rectified in order to prevent future inappropriate oil drilling and extreme oil extraction techniques," the Conservancy of Southwest Florida said in a news release.

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Jason Dearen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen

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