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Collier-Owned Company Leases Populated Area In Collier County for Exploratory Drilling
In what is shaping up to be a move as potentially disastrous for the Collier family name as the Collier county environment, a May 2013 drilling permit application by Dan A. Hughes company describes their intent to drill a 13,900 foot deep exploratory well in close proximity to a relatively densely populated residential area known as Golden Gate.
In an official statement made in April, Dan A. Hughes announced they had "recently entered into a mineral exploration leasing agreement with Collier Resources Company, LLP to explore for oil in Collier County." In fact, Dan A. Hughes has applied for six drilling permits in Collier county in the past six months, four of which are pending and two of which have been approved.
The Collier Resources Company proudly traces its roots to Barron Gift Collier, the founder of Collier County, and the two Collier family owned businesses, Barron Collier Companies and Collier Enterprise, which jointly own it. Additionally, they claim that despite being part of a 69 year history of oil exploration and production in Southwest Florida, they "take pride in our legacy of environmental stewardship."
Disaster Preparedness or Public Relations Disaster?
In late April, local residents living within a square mile of the drilling site, in what is known as Golden Gate estates, were alarmed to receive letters from Total Safety Inc., a company hired on behalf of Dan A. Hughes company, requesting contact information in order to create an emergency evacuation plan in case of an explosion or hazardous hydrogen sulfide gas release. See video.
The area in Golden Gate being drilled is connected to a massive, onshore oil reserve known as the Sunniland Trend, which stretches from Ft. Myers to Miami.
First discovered to contain oil by Humble Oil (now known as Exxon) in 1943, a large part is located within the Big Cypress National Preserve, which was created in 1974. According to the Collier Resources Company website, "The Collier family conveyed more than 159,000 acres for the establishment and expansion of the Preserve but maintained private ownership of the mineral rights." Also, because the environmental protection standard that Congress mandated when creating the Preserve allows "...reasonable use and enjoyment of privately owned oil and gas interests," they maintain the right to explore and drill for oil and gas within this "protected" wildlife area.
Why the densely populated and relatively poorer area (14.1% below poverty line) known as Golden Gate was singled out for exploratory drilling is unknown, but when juxtaposed to the generally wealthy Naples-Marco Island area of Collier County, the public relations fallout may be hard to recover from.
Heightened Awareness of the Dangers of Oil & Gas Companies
One reason local residents are distrustful, and many up in arms, is because of the heightened awareness of the unintended, adverse environmental and health effects of oil exploration and drilling that followed the 2010 BP oil disaster, which roiled local environmentalists and tourism and hospitality interests alike, and left a lasting legacy of toxicity within the Gulf of Mexico, which the recent record deaths of manatees, ostensibly "caused by Red Tide," may be connected to.
Another is the growing concern over the thousands of hydraulic fracking wells that have popped up around the country, which have now been documented to cause the serious harms to water quality and human and environmental health in afflicted areas. Florida, in fact, has seen a flurry of fracking-related bills move through the state legislature in the past year, which critics warn are intended to open the state up to natural gas drilling. [i] See a description of fracking process and its harms.
One such bill, the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act, which critics say is pro-fracking and appears to have been written by Exxon itself, was passed by the State of Florida, House of Representatives on April 24th. An article published in the Fort Myers News-Press in late 2012 titled, "Exclusive: Fracking Confronts Florida," revealed that emails obtained from the Department of Environmental Protection shows discussions had been taking place about the possibility of fracking in Florida.[ii]
Local Group Mobilizes To Stop the Drilling/Fracking
A local group of residents are mobilizing and organizing under the name Preserve Our Paradise, and are fighting back against what one organizer, Joe D. Mule, described as a David and Goliath fight. Mr. Mule acknowledges that while the official drilling permit does not explicitly describe activity consistent with hydraulic fracturing, many of the same chemicals used to drill a conventional oil well are identical (and still mostly undisclosed by the manufacturers as "trade secrets") to those used in hydraulic fracturing. The result will be the same: poisoning of the local aquifer, soil, agriculture and overall environment.
Here is how his organization describes the history leading up to this event, and how they are organizing against it:
In 1911 the New York advertising magnate, Barron Collier, began buying up large tracts of Southwest Florida, eventually owning over 1,000,000 acres. After his death, the land passed to his sons and family, through the Barron Collier companies.
After Collier's death in 1939, oil was discovered on the Barron Collier lands. Between 1943 and the early 1980′s some 100 million barrels of crude oil were pumped from the oil field in Southwest Florida known as the "Sunniland Trend". The wells ran dry, and the oil fields were sold off for housing developments. The people came. New drilling technologies, like "fracking", that could squeeze more oil out of dry fields were invented. Now the Barron Collier companies want to resume major drilling in the Sunniland. But this time, there are people in their oil fields.
HERE AND NOW
In May 2013 a drilling permit was submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and related agencies. On May 30 a public hearing was held on the permit. Over 200 area residents turned out. Only perhaps two-thirds of the citizens had an opportunity to speak. Many questions were left unanswered. Citizens at that meeting have organized Preserve Our Paradise and this website to extend that public hearing.
Our present position is that there are many serious health, safety, environmental, procedural, and community problems with the specific well being permitted, as well as with the general prospect of reopening the Sunniland field for exploration and production. At a minimum, we demand the period of public comment on the present permit be extended until these problems can be resolved.
The group has published a list of Facts & Myths regarding the intended drilling site, and have rebuffed as "MYTH" the official declaration that 'The project does not involve fracking, after all, and there is no fracking in Florida':
FACT: Company officials indicate that they will not be fracking because the limestone formations of the Lower Sunniland are porous enough to extract oil without fracking. But Florida has no law banning fracking, and the company has fracked in projects elsewhere in the U.S. Plenty of speculation in the industry and media exists about whether fracking would come to Florida because it would presumably extract even more oil than horizontal drilling. Horizontal drilling is a precursor to fracking, and this project will use horizontal drilling. Until fracking is banned in Florida, it cannot be said that this project will not be the first of many Lower Sunniland projects, or that fracking won't be used ultimately.
Learn how they are taking action, and how you can join the fight here: Take Action.
[i] Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, "Florida Fracking Bills Moving Through Legislature," April 24, 2013 http://fcir.org/2013/04/24/florida-fracking-bills-moving-through-legislature/