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Oil company appeals ruling rejecting drilling near the Everglades

Reflection of the clouds in swamp water of the Everglades.
Brian Call
National Park Service
The Everglades

The company is appealing the ruling that no oil is likely to be found in an area that is critical for the endangered Florida panther.

A company has launched an appeal after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection rejected a proposal to drill an exploratory oil well in Collier County.

Trend Exploration, LLC, filed a notice Thursday that is a first step in challenging the decision at the 1st District Court of Appeal, according to a court docket. The move came after the Department of Environmental Protection last month issued a final order denying the proposed permit.

Trend Exploration applied for a permit in March 2021, but the Department of Environmental Protection turned down the proposal in November 2021. The issue then went to the state Division of Administrative Hearings, where Administrative Law Judge Francine Ffolkes in March issued a recommended order that said the permit should be denied.

“The preponderance of the evidence in this case establishes there is no proven or indicated likelihood of the presence of oil on a commercially profitable basis,” the recommended order said. “The greater weight of the evidence warrants against the exploration and extraction of oil in this case.”

Under administrative law, Ffolkes’ recommended order had to go back to the Department of Environmental Protection for a final decision.

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The 2021 original ruling stated:

  • The proposed well is located in the environmentally sensitive Big Cypress watershed.
  • It would be adjacent to areas that would likely be developed.
  • The nearest drilling projects to the proposed sites were dry holes and there has been no exploratory drilling there in 40 years.
  • There is "insufficient geological data" to indicate the likelihood of oil in the area.
  • The company failed to ensure there would be no permanent impact on wildlife in the area, including rare and endangered species.

Opposition came from people who say it could contaminate the water supply in the area and trucks would disrupt one of the prime habitats of the Florida panther. One person who wrote a letter to state regulators said there have been a large number of panther roadkills in areas surrounding the proposed well. Another person wrote it would be near historical sites on Seminole Tribal lands. The tribe has requested a survey of the area for its cultural significance.

The News Service of Florida
Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.