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While one company challenges the denial of its oil drilling application in Big Cypress Swamp, another withdraws its application

oil drilling rig surrounded by swampland and water
Florida Park Service via State Library and Archives of Florida
/
A historical photo of an oil drilling rig in the Everglades.

The Department of Environmental Protection in November denied a permit that Trend Exploration sought to drill an exploratory well to seek oil reserves.

A firm that wants to drill for oil in Collier County is challenging a decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to deny it a permit.

The challenge, filed by Trend Exploration, LLC, was sent last week to the state Division of Administrative Hearings, where Judge Francine Ffolkes will consider it.

The Department of Environmental Protection in November denied a permit that Trend Exploration sought to drill an exploratory well to seek oil reserves.

In part, the department said the proposed well would be in the environmentally sensitive Big Cypress watershed and would be near areas of eastern Collier County that likely will be developed.

Here's the reason given by the state:

The department's top priority is always protection of the environment and public health. All permit applications are carefully evaluated under Florida law to ensure that all aspects of the proposed activities will follow the law and are protective of the environment and human health and safety. In this case, the information submitted by the applicant was not complete to demonstrate that the application meets the Conditions for Issuance of an Environmental Resource Permit and State 404 Program Permit, pursuant to Part IV of Chapter 373, F.S., Chapters 62-330, F.A.C., and Chapters 62-331, F.A.C. More specifically, the applicant failed to provide the information needed to evaluate alternatives for the proposed projects, measures for avoidance and minimization of impacts, and wildlife, water quality and wetland resource protections.
- Florida Department of Environmental Protection

In the challenge, the company said it has an option to lease 2,963 acres of oil, gas and mineral rights from Collier Resources Co., which manages large land holdings in Southwest Florida.

The challenge pointed to other drilling that has been approved in the region, including five wells in the watershed within a two-mile radius of the proposed site.

It also disputed the state’s arguments about potential nearby development, as it said Collier-related entities own much of the land in the area and “will continue to determine the use of surface lands that is in their best interest including use of the lands for oil, gas and mineral exploration and possibly production purposes.”

Several environmental groups praised the denial of the permit. Jaclyn Lopez is with the Florida office of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group.

“Drilling for oil in this wild and beautiful wilderness will always be a terrible idea with unacceptable risks to endangered panthers and the greater Everglades,” Lopez said in a written statement.

“Big Cypress is vital to ensuring clean water in the Everglades. It deserves perpetual preservation, not dangerous industrialization that will further contribute to the climate emergency. President Biden must deny the Big Cypress oil-drilling proposals still pending with the National Park Service.”

Also, another oil company has at least temporarily withdrawn applications for permits that could have been a step toward drilling for oil and gas in Big Cypress.

In a letter Tuesday to the state Department of Environmental Protection, representatives of Burnett Oil Co. pointed to an ongoing review by the National Park Service.

The letter from Peninsula Engineering said recent decisions by the park service would lead to a longer review period and potential design changes.

It said Burnett “requests that its applications previously submitted to the Department (of Environmental Protection) be withdrawn until the project is further along in the design process to adequately assess the department’s permitting criteria.”

The department said in a news release that the permit applications involved well pads for the project, not for actual drilling. It also said it recommended in December that the permit application be withdrawn until the project’s design was further along.

It said in a statement that “the applicant failed to provide the information needed to evaluate alternatives for the proposed projects, measures for avoidance and minimization of impacts, and wildlife, water quality and wetland resource protections.”

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.