Panthers are on the wrong side of a potential oil boom in Florida.
A state administrative judge ruled Tuesday that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection can go ahead and issue a permit to a Texas-based company to drill an exploratory well in southwest Florida, Naples News reports.
The 115,000 acres that Dan A. Hughes will test for oil reserves lie near the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge and state parks, national preserves, a watershed, and a swamp sanctuary, according to the Earth Island Journal. The biggest target is Big Cypress National Preserve, which borders the Everglades and sits atop what prospectors believe are massive oil resources.
Tuesday’s court ruling stated that drilling activities would not have an adverse effect on nearby wildlife, a finding supported by industry advocates. After all, oil companies have been drilling in southwest Florida for decades. But drilling opponents say this exploratory well would be located in an area near the refuge known for its Florida panther population. The proximity is especially troublesome, they say, given the Florida panther’s status as an endangered species — only about 160 are left in the wild.
A Naples, Fla.-based environmental group, one local resident, and a wildlife advocate attempted to block the project when the Texas company received a drilling permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection last year. They said that the project’s noisy and disruptive nature — road construction, transport by heavy-duty trucks, round-the-clock drilling — could further shrink the local panther population.
Now that a Florida court has given the green light for a permit, it’s up to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to approve it. But since the department already approved a permit for the oil company once, there’s a good chance it will go through again.