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Oil Well Near Florida Panther Habitat OK'd by State Judge

A state judge yesterday overruled legal challenges to an exploratory oil well in an area of the Big Cypress Swamp watershed adjoining the habitat of the Florida Panther, near the Naples residential neighborhood of Golden Gate Estates.

See also: - DEP Bends to Oil Company Seeking to Drill in Everglades

The challenges to the Department of Environmental Protection's permit for the well reflected area residents' concerns -- about chemical hazards and regulatory procedure -- and environmentalists' concern for the Florida Panther. Administrative Law Judge D.R. Alexander held that "conflicting testimony... on these issues... has been resolved in [Texas oil company Dan A. Hughes'] favor as being the more credible and persuasive testimony."

The Golden Gate well is just one of six the DEP has permitted to the Hughes Co., occupying but a small part of the 115,000 acres of mineral rights the company has leased from Collier Resources, owners of more than 800,000 acres of mineral rights in Southwest Florida.

Alexander's order made no mention of the Hughes Co.'s having been sanctioned by the DEP for unauthorized fracking at another of its Collier County wells. Neither did Alexander take into consideration the Collier County Board of Commissioners' unanimous decision to challenge further activity on that site.

Alexander held that the Golden Gate drilling would not "decrease [Florida Panther] survivability," though he described the operation as follows:

Once the access road is built and the equipment put in place, the drilling activities will take place 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and will be completed in approximately 60 to 70 days. The on-site diesel generators will run simultaneously 24 hours per day while drilling is taking place. The pad will be illuminated at night with lights on the drilling derrick and throughout the pad. Construction of the drilling pad will require trucking around 12,000 to 14,000 cubic yards of fill to the drilling location. Additional traffic for bringing in fill, piping, and related equipment will occur, but the exact amount of traffic is unknown.

Area residents opposed to the Golden Gate well promised to bring additional legal challenges and issued this statement on the ruling:

The order recommends that the health dangers of hydrogen sulfide and threats to endangered species like the Florida Panther were insignificant compared to the corporate interests of out-of-state oil money and the mineral rights held in this case by the Collier family.

A Hughes Co. representative told the Naples Daily News that the drillers were "encouraged" and said the ruling was "based on sound science and full consideration of the facts."

Pending further legal complications, the DEP is required to issue a final order on the well permit within 90 days of the judge's ruling,

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected]

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