Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Permit for oil drilling near homes and panther refuge stirs uproar, prompts EPA hearing

In August, about 100 people marched more than a mile down a beach in Naples to the home of Gov. Rick Scott, where they waved signs that said, "Preserve Our Paradise!" and "Remember BP?"

They set up a 10-foot-tall model oil rig and gave speeches through a bullhorn that urged Scott to reject plans to drill for oil on the edge of a refuge for the Florida panther — and about 1,000 feet from the nearest occupied home in Naples' Golden Gate Estates neighborhood.

Despite that protest and others, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently said yes to the Dan A. Hughes Co.'s application to drill an exploratory oil well on land owned by Barron Collier Resources Co. The move has sparked an uproar, prompting a Florida senator and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get involved.

The DEP said yes on Sept. 20 because the application from the Beeville, Texas, company met all the state's requirements, explained Ed Garrett, who heads up DEP's oil and gas program. None of those requirements involves staying away from where people live.

"A specific distance to homes is not mentioned in the rules," he said.

Florida is not exactly Texas, where oil fields produced 588 million barrels of crude last year. But there are geological formations in the Panhandle and the area west of Lake Okeechobee that produced more than 2 million barrels last year.

As of last count there were 156 active wells in Florida, and the oil they pump out provided $700 million in tax revenue for the state. The oldest oil field is in Collier County, where the company that's now Exxon drilled its first well in 1942.

As oil prices have risen in recent years, it has spurred a push to increase drilling in Florida. The last time the DEP updated its rules for drilling permits was in 1996, said Garrett, a 22-year veteran of the agency. There are no plans for any changes, he said.

In the past five years, the DEP has approved more than 40 oil drilling permits and denied zero. The last time the agency denied a permit for drilling was when it rejected 23 of them in the late 1990s and early 2000s — all applications to drill offshore, Garrett said.

The list of approved permits includes six for the Dan A. Hughes Co. for drilling exploratory wells on Barron Collier property, he said. Neither Dan A. Hughes Co. nor Barron Collier employees responded to requests for comment.

The only unusual thing about the permit application that prompted the protest at the governor's beachfront home, Garrett said, "is that it garnered public attention. Most of them go unnoticed."

This one might have also passed unnoticed except for one thing: a company working for Hughes sent out letters asking Golden Gate residents for information needed to draw up an evacuation plan in case of an explosion.

Alarmed, the residents formed a group called Preserve Our Paradise that organized protests, wrote letters and packed a DEP public hearing. "You're looking at hundreds of homes that could be impacted," said the group's president, retired AT&T executive Joe D. Mulé.

Barbara Maher, 63, a retiree from Ohio, owns one of the homes closest to the proposed drilling site. She bought her property because it's so rural that "panthers walk around our property all the time." She fears what the drilling will do to her water well and her property values.

Less concerned: the staff of Florida Panther National Wildife Refuge, which is about a mile away. Initially they had questions about what effect the drilling might have on the flow of water across the landscape, said refuge director Kevin Godsey. But when they examined the plans, which call for drilling in an area that had previously been devoted to growing crops, they decided it would not cause any greater problems than already exist and thus have not objected, he said.

The news that the DEP had approved the permit despite residents' objections has upset the Golden Gate neighborhood.

"I was devastated," Maher said. "I have been so depressed."

She also went out and bought a gas mask in case the drilling releases toxic gas.

Mulé said the organization plans to file a legal challenge — and not just against the latest Dan A. Hughes permit but all of its permits for drilling near Golden Gate Estates.

In addition, the leaders contacted U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who has persuaded the EPA to agree to hold a hearing in Naples in October or November.

"Because it's near homes and a panther habitat, the right thing to do would be to at least hear from anyone who might be affected," Nelson explained.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached at

Permit for oil drilling near homes and panther refuge stirs uproar, prompts EPA hearing 10/05/13 [Last modified: Sunday, October 6, 2013 11:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Have your say Tampa Bay on the region's future transit options

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — It's time, yet again, for Tampa Bay residents to tell officials what kind of transit options they want for their region.

    The Cross-Bay Ferry docks at the Tampa Convention Center on its maiden voyage on Nov. 1, 2016. A regional premium transit study will determine whether a ferry, or other options such as express buses or light rail, would be a good addition to Tampa Bay. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
  2. Today, a total eclipse of the sun will span the entire United States, crossing from the West Coast to the East Coast, for the first time in 99 years. (Dreamstime/TNS)
  3. What is poke? Here's how to make the Hawaiian dish at home


    In Hawaiian, "poke" simply means "to cut."

    Tuna Poke Bowl: For a classic poke bowl, try this recipe with ahi (yellowfin) and only a few other ingredients.
  4. MOSI, SPC, libraries offer safe solar eclipse viewing Monday


    If you couldn't score some of the hard-to-find eyewear that will let you watch Monday's solar eclipse, have no fear, there are safe viewing choices across the Tampa Bay area.

    Twin Falls High School science teachers Ashley Moretti, left, and Candace Wright, right, use their eclipse shades to look at the sun as they pose for a portrait at Twin Falls High School in Twin Falls, Idaho. The district bought 11,000 pairs of solar glasses, enough for every student and staff member to view the solar eclipse Aug. 21

(Pat Sutphin/The Times-News via AP)
  5. SOCom seeks civilian drone pilots to develop new technology through ThunderDrone


    TAMPA — For the last three years, Nicole Abbett has been using drones as part of her photography business, with clients like the city of Tampa and construction companies.

    Josh Newby, 31, Palm Harbor, of Tampa Drones fly's a drone in England Brothers park, Pinellas Park, 8/25/16. As drone popularity increases as a hobby and business, local governments are navigating a legal grey area- where, when, and how should drone flights be allowed?