Posted: 4:43 p.m. Monday, June 16, 2014

9 Investigates Gov. Scott connection to oil, gas drilling company

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

When he last filed paperwork in 2013 with the Commission on Ethics, Gov. Rick Scott listed his personal fortune at more than $83 million.
 
Part of that fortune is tied up in Scott’s blind trust, an account managed for Scott, but without his involvement. 
 
While the name implies a separation from the governor, Scott is still aware of what companies he owned when the trust was created, including oilfield services company Schlumberger.
 
According to records obtained by Eyewitness News, at the time of the creation of the blind trust in 2010,  Scott owned $135,343 of stock in Schlumberger.  Schlumberger is now working with a company drilling for oil and natural gas in south Florida, near the Everglades.
 
Since Dec. 1, 2012, the Department of Environmental Protection has issued six permits to the Dan A. Hughes Company to explore parts of Collier County for oil and natural gas. 

In an email to Eyewitness News, Stephen Harris, of Schlumberger, said, “Our Water Services division has been involved in the permitting of the salt water injection wells for Dan A. Hughes, and have assisted by providing information to Passarella & Associates who put the oil well permit application package together.”
 
Since the blind trust was created in 2010, the price of Schlumberger stock has climbed from $83.50 to $106.89. 
 
In a statement to Eyewitness News, the Scott re-election campaign said, “all oil and gas companies - regardless of who they are - must operate within the law and abide by Florida's environmental regulations,” attributing the quote to Scott.
 
But Hughes has already strayed from the guidelines of the law, at least according to a fine issued by DEP.
 
On April 8, 2014, the Department of Environmental Protection issued what’s known as a “consent order” to the Hughes Company for what DEP called a “workover operation.”  Hughes was fined $25,000.  In the order, DEP requested Hughes disclose what was used in its operation, however, in the final order released to the public, DEP withheld the nature of the substance used by Hughes, citing “trade secrets.” Hughes has denied that the process it used is hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
 
“We’re worried because it looks like on the photos that were taken there some of the chemicals have labels that say that they’re carcinogens,” says environmental attorney Ralf Brookes. “We think this well should be shut down.”
 
Brookes is part of a growing contingent of concerned residents in Collier County.
 
Collier is a heavily Republican county that, in addition to being the location of Scott’s $9.2 million beachfront mansion, also voted for him in 2010.  But, political leanings aside, Collier commissioners are now moving forward with a legal challenge against DEP for what commissioners have called "inadequate" enforcement of the law when it comes to Hughes.
 
“We’re worried that they (DEP) are protecting the oil companies and not the people, the groundwater and the surface ecology of the area,” says Brookes.   
 
“I guess we have no choice,” said Naples resident Eduardo Villalonga, who attended the most recent Collier County Commission meeting to protest DEP.  “They’re supposed to be looking after us, and it doesn’t seem that way.”
 
While the oversight of Hughes falls on DEP, it is the governor and three elected cabinet members that oversee DEP.

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