Broward News

EPA Extends Comment Period on Oil Company Drilling in Everglades, Panther Habitat

After a massive citizen turnout at public hearings in Naples yesterday, Environmental Protection Agency officials have extended the comment period on a Texas oil company's request to drill a wastewater disposal well in the Everglades.

Environmental activists at the meeting claim 300 to 400 of their number were in attendance. The Naples Daily News described them as an "angry crowd" and put their number at 200, reporting:

So many people packed the Golden Gate Community Center on Tuesday night to attend hearings on a water injection well for the proposed oil well in Golden Gate Estates that the Sheriff's Office finally had to close the doors.

See also: Oil Drilling in Everglades Subject of EPA Hearing in Naples Next Week

The immediate subject of Tuesday's hearing was a Class II underground injection well intended to service an exploratory oil well for which the Dan A. Hughes Co. of Houston has already won preliminary approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, though the oil well still faces legal challenges.

Both wells, and others the company plans, are located in Collier County, where Hughes mineral rights leases cover 115,000 acres, including large portions of the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve and Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, home to some of Florida's last old-growth cypress.

Enviros were in a celebratory mood over the reported three-week extension, as evidenced on group and individual Facebook pages. A typical remark:

Congrats on a great turn out, thank you for organizing and all who attended... Couldn't mistake the difference in energy of the crowd when the EPA hearing started, suddenly the crowd became respectful. Terrific news about the 4000 emails to the EPA over the weekend. Great news all of the comments will be part of the permanent record.

What remains to be determined is whether the EPA will act on public comments and deny the injection well permit application. If it does, that could but will not necessarily put an end to the Hughes Co.'s oil drilling plans. The drillers could resort to disposal by truck of the exploratory well wastewater, though that prospect is likely to draw further citizen protest.

The agency could take from 60 to 90 days to make a ruling, according to a Region 4 media rep, and "even longer, depending on the volume of comments."

Public comment on the injection well will be accepted through March 31 by Fred McManus, Chief, Ground Water and UIC Sections, EPA Region 4, at [email protected]

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers politics, activism, the environment and culture in Palm Beach County and elsewhere. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected]

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