Residents, Environmentalists Oppose Oil Drilling Plans in Collier County

Jun 11, 2013

Golden Gate residents gather to talk about a proposed oil exploration site nearby.
Credit Ashley Lopez / WGCU


New technology and rising prices have spurred a renewed interest in exploring for oil in Florida. Oil companies are applying for permits in the Sunniland Trend in Southwest Florida, as well as Jay Field in the panhandle. However, oil companies have a hard sell among the residents that live near the Sunniland Trend, as well as the environmentalists protecting sensitive lands in the area.

The Residents of Golden Gate

Residents of a neighborhood in Eastern Collier County gathered at a public meeting last week to get information about a possible oil site in their backyards.

The Dan A. Hughes oil company is planning to explore for oil in the Lower Sunniland Trend sometime in October.

The proposed site is just about a mile from residential properties in Golden Gate.

It’s been decades since there was a lot of oil drilling in Southwest Florida, but new technology has spurred a renewed interest. The difference this time: there are residential properties dotting the area and many of the people who live in them are opposing to the plans.

Adam Romero recently bought a house in Golden Gate just a mile from the proposed site. He told representatives from the oil company during the public forum that he was deeply troubled by an oil safety advisory that warned him he was within the site’s “blast zone.”      

“I just bought a house,” he said. “My property value is on the ground. How much worse is it going to get? My nest egg is gone. Would you like to live next to bomb? I wouldn’t. And if I knew that this was going to be built I wouldn’t have moved here. Probably would have bought somewhere else.”

A company called Total Safety sent a letter in April to residents in the area warning them about a need for evacuation plans, just in case anything went wrong. However, representatives from the oil company assured residents the process was safe and there are relatively few accidents at oil sites.

Residents said that didn’t make them feel any better.

A Renewed Interest In Southwest Florida Oil

Angry eastern Collier County residents trying to fight possible oil drilling in their backyards could become a common sight in next the few years.

Hank Kremers, an executive for the Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Company, said in the past, limited technology only allowed for drilling in the Upper Sunniland Trend. However, new horizontal drilling technology, he said, has many oil companies considering drilling in Lower Sunniland Trend.

“I know of probably three or four other companies—there is probably more than that out there – I don’t keep track, so it’s hard for me to say—but generally speaking, it’s coming,” Kremers said.

Kremers said there’s new evidence that the Lower Sunniland Trend has more oil than the Upper Trend, which is why his company is investing somewhere between $8 million and $10 million to explore for oil there.

David Mica, a lobbyist for Florida’s Petroleum Council, said it’s not just technology that is making interest in drilling in Florida rise – it’s also gas prices.

“When you see that a price of a barrel of oil is in the high $90 to $100 range, that’s a driver as well,” Mica explained. “Whereas, in many cases, when oil was not valued as well there wasn’t the interest level in producing here.”

Mica said companies will usually look to drill in parts of the country that are cheaper and are known to have large amounts of oil.

Historically, Florida hasn’t produced as much oil as states like Texas.

There is currently small-scale oil drilling in the Sunniland Trend, which has been going on for years. But, so far, it has only yielded about two thousand barrels a day --that’s compared to 2.2 million barrels a day in Texas.

Mica said he believes in time residents will be pleased with the positive economic effects oil drilling will have on Florida.

Environmental Concerns

But, in the meantime, oil companies will also have to respond to environmental concerns surrounding drilling in Eastern Collier.

The proposed oil site in Golden Gate is close to many preservation lands. To name a few: one parcel is owned by Florida’s Audubon Society, another is owned by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Andrew MacElwaine, the outgoing director of the Conservancy, said the Sunniland Trend is almost completely surrounded by sensitive conservation land.

“The area where they are looking to drill is adjacent to the Florida panther wildlife refuge and in panther primary habitat,” he said. “Similarly, I am concerned about expanding drilling into new places within the big cypress preserve, which is something people have been talking about for years.”

Residents Organize

Following the public meeting held in Golden Gate, MacElwaine said he and residents were not reassured by the presence of oil companies in the area.

He said residents have a lot of question about safety and the environmental effects of oil drilling. However, he said little answers have been given to residents.

Tom Jones, the Senior VP of Collier Resources, which owns the part of the Sunniland Trend the Dan A. Hughes Company is looking to explore for oil in, said his company is working on ways to assuage fears.

“We believe it’s safe it can be done in an efficient and environmentally un-impactful way and we are just trying to get that across to people,” he said. “We are just looking for an opportunity to explain, because I think a lot of people don’t understand it and I think oil is an easy target for people.”

Residents of Golden Gate have been organizing since their heated meeting with Collier Resources and the Dan A. Hughes Company. The residents have formed a group they are calling ‘Preserve Our Paradise,’ which is holding a public town hall meeting in Naples this week.

If you would like to attend the meeting, here are the details:

What: Emergency town hall meeting against oil drilling in Naples
When: Tuesday, June 11, 5PM
Where: South Regional Library, 8065 Lely Cultural Parkway, Naples 34113