Southwest Florida drilling plan faces new bump in the road

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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is requiring a drilling company to answer questions during a series of public meetings in Southwest Florida. The head of South Florida Wildlands Association, Matt Schwartz, weighs in on a drilling proposal near the Everglades in Collier County.

“One question I’ve asked from the beginning that never got answered is to show us an actual map of the lease area and lay that map over the public lands in the area. What I’ve seen is just kind of blotches on a map with no features. I want to know where are the public lands in relationship to their lease area, they’ve leased 115,000 acres? What part of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge have we leased? The Picayune Strand? The Pacahatchee Strand? The Big Cypress National Preserve? The Krill lands? The Panther National Wildlife Refuge? These are important public lands acquired at great cost, great effort and that’s where they’re planning to be drilling. So I want to see the actual lease. If DEP really wants to answer all of the questions the meetings should include their own representatives plus representatives from the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, from the South Florida Water Management District. It’s very distressing for all of the people in Southwest Florida and for people everywhere that are concerned about panthers and wildlife and public lands and water. It’s been something of a nightmare. Do I see this as a good thing? Yes, I do.”

Why do you think there’s been so much secrecy?

“I think the problem has been is they’ve never gotten this type of scrutiny for an oil well before. In fact, the secrecy is beginning to grow. I spoke to a colleague today who was inquiring about yet another well in Lee County and was told that the permitting people in DEP can no longer answer questions to the public directly and have to go through an information officer. I think what’s happened is that there’s been a moderate, small, moderate amount of oil drilling in Southwest Florida previously. The applications came in, they were fairly routine. They were approved and I think they’re just not used to dealing with this level of interest and resentments. People do not want Southwest Florida, these rare natural public lands and lands next to public lands being turned into oil fields and there’s a lot of hostility.”

If people want to get involved in this fight where can they find more information and how can they participate?

“My organization, the South Florida Wildlife Association, we’re small, we do have a website that needs a lot of development. There’s also a Facebook page that I update 2 or 3 times a day. It’s got a very active community of folks that are engaged in this. Citizens, environmentalists, other people from other organizations, lawyers. This is a hot topic and I think it’s a moving target. It’s changing almost by the day so it’s pretty much staying in touch with us through Facebook. I’ll be sending out an updated email trying to summarize everything that’s going on as best as I can. People can also sign up for our email list on our Facebook page.”