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]