Protestors gathered outside the Golden Gate Estates Community Center before the first of two meetings regarding drilling in Southwest Florida on Tuesday.
Area residents and environmental advocates oppose the site. They said drilling will take place too close to homes and possibly pollute groundwater.
State and local representatives heard public comments as the organizations came closer to deciding the fate of oil exploration permits for the Dan A. Hughes Company.
The Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee held the first meeting. The group is working up a recommendation and suggestions to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection—or DEP—regarding the permit for an exploratory oil well, which the DEP issued last year.
Ralf Brookes is representing residents of the community who would live near the site—as well as the environmental group "Preserve our Paradise."
Brookes helped file a motion in an administrative hearing. He claims the DEP did not follow Florida statute when granting permits in the Big Cypress Swamp area.
“In this case DEP issued the permit and then they called the advisory committee. That’s putting the cart before the horse. They were supposed to come to this advisory committee, take their recommendations and incorporate that into any permit conditions,” he said.
After testimony and discussions, the committee decided they needed more time before making a recommendation to the DEP.
The next meeting featured representatives from the EPA. The federal agency is reviewing another permit for an injection well that would sit nearby the exploratory well.
David Mica, executive director for the Florida Petroleum Council and member of the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee said if the EPA does not grant the permit, it could kill the project.
“We have to – as an industry – receive many, many kinds of permits before going forward,” Mica said. “That one is associated with the EPA …You’ve got to have everything in order before you drill a well.”
At the close of the meeting, the EPA decided to take comments until the end of the month. It will take the EPA 50 to 90 days to review comments. Then, it will make a decision on whether to grant the permit.
The Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee will meet again in three weeks.