An Oil Company Is One Step Closer to Drilling Near a Florida Panther Refuge

A judge has ruled in favor of a drilling project after wildlife activists tried to block the state from approving it.

National Journal
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Marina Koren
June 4, 2014, 8:25 a.m.

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.