Advertisement
  1. News

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

Dennis and Barbara Maher live in a house in the Golden Gate Estates subdivision near Naples, which is about 1,000 yards from a proposed oil well site. Barbara has already bought a gas mask because she's afraid of toxic fumes. She has been active in trying to stop the drilling.
Published Oct. 7, 2013

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 craig@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Amber Carr, center, wipes a tear as her sister, Ashley Carr, left, and attorney Lee Merritt, right, listen to their brother Adarius Carr talk about their sister, Atatiana Jefferson during a news conference Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 in downtown Dallas. The family of the 28-year-old black woman who was shot and killed by a white police officer in her Fort Worth home as she played video games with her 8-year-old nephew expressed outrage that the officer has not been arrested or fired. (Irwin Thompson/The Dallas Morning News via AP) AP
    The white, former Fort Worth police officer has been booked in jail on a murder charge for the shooting of a black woman through a window in her home.
  2. Tikerria Nashay Bell, 21, was arrested on a charge of attempted murder. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    She fled with their 18-month-old daughter, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
  3. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    Police say it appears the girl was accidentally left inside the Jeep on Monday morning.
  4. The Tampa Bay Times' annual Medicare Guide explains how the program is set up, helps you compare options available in the Tampa Bay area, and points the way toward help, including free, one-on-one assistance. This illustration will grace the cover of LifeTimes on Oct. 23, when the guide will be published in print. RON BORRESEN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    As the open enrollment period begins, it’s time to review your coverage.
  5. The Medicare Handbook for 2020 is a good resource to have as the annual open enrollment period gets under way. The government usually mails beneficiaries a copy. Find a PDF version to print at medicare.gov/pub/medicare-you-handbook, or call 1-800-633-4227 (1-800-MEDICARE) to order a copy. THOMAS TOBIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The open enrollment period, which lasts into December, is a time for millions of beneficiaries to review, and possibly change, their coverage.
  6. Medicare's online Plan Finder has been redesigned and is available at medicare.gov/find-a-plan. THOMAS TOBIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The most-used tool on Medicare.gov will look different this year.
  7. Jim Tolbert, left, staffs a booth at a senior expo for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, a state program that answers Medicare and other insurance questions. The program has scheduled a number of events around the Tampa Bay area during Medicare's open enrollment period, Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Times (2015)
    About 500 volunteers statewide are at the ready. They work for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, now in its 28th year.
  8. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The Fort Myers woman stepped in front of the plane and was struck.
  9. James Dailey, 73, is set to be executed on Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    James Dailey’s execution remains set for Nov. 7. On Monday, a judge denied efforts to overturn his death sentence after a former prosecutor testified.
  10. Investigators are collecting evidence at the scene of a fatal stabbing on the 4000 block of 68th Street N. The victim was trying to break into a house, the Sheriff's Office said. KATHRYN VARN   |   TIMES  |  Kathryn Varn
    The dead man had sneaked out of a group home a block away. It’s unlikely charges will be filed, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement