Wildlife Advocates, Residents Fight Oil Permits During State Hearings In Ft. Myers

Feb 28, 2014

Three days of state hearings over approved oil exploration permits in Golden Gate Estates ended on Thursday.

Wildlife advocates and residents asked an administrative law judge in Fort Myers to recommend that the state not allow the drilling.

Two petitioners filed lawsuits in an effort to get the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to reconsider permits for the Dan A. Hughes Company.

The company is hoping to explore for oil in eastern Collier County in an area within miles of conservation lands.

The hearings included testimony from residents in Golden Gate, who would live right next to the site. Most said safety concerns are their biggest worry.

Wildlife Advocate Matthew Schwartz is one of the petitioners.

He said DEP didn’t properly take into account the welfare of endangered Florida panthers living in the area when they granted the permits.

“First of all, the permitting process didn’t acknowledge that this was even a high panther activity area,” he said. “I mean, it is less than a mile from the refuge. There is no border on the refuge. There is no fencing or anything like that. Panthers move through this area all the time.”

Schwartz also alleged the DEP didn’t create any stipulations aimed at mitigating some of the disturbances to panthers caused by oil exploration.

The DEP said in a statement, “the right to an Administrative Hearing is an important component of the Department’s open and transparent permitting process. The Department will await the Judge’s Recommended Order.”

The process could take several months.