Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 5:43 by Tom Palmer
Most of the talk about oil drilling in Florida has involved concerns about spills from offshore rigs despoiling our beaches and chasing away tourists.
The recent news that marine life as far south of the southwest coast of Florida was affected by the Deep Horizon spill certainly shows the concerns weren’t overstated.
But there’s another, less-publicized oil drilling dispute under way in southwest Florida at the edge of the Everglades.
This one involves a proposal to drill wells in Collier County near rural residential areas and in the middle of some the remaining Florida panther habitat.
The main concerns are over the potential for groundwater pollution, increased water consumption in an are where water supplies are already stressed and new road construction that could disrupt wildlife corridors.
This issue is all being sorted out in administrative hearings that are under way to secure state and federal permits required before the project can proceed.
Oil drilling is not a new enterprise in this part of Florida.
There has been some drilling in southwest Florida since 1943 in the Sunniland area, but production has never been at the levels you hear about in Texas and other big oil-producing areas.
What’s different now and what’s causing activists to organize is new drilling and extraction techniques such as fracking and the fact that people are living in the area and worry how the work will affect their private wells.
These local concerns reflect concerns that have been raised nationally about the environmental impacts of newer oil and gas extraction methods.
The concern over road construction is tied to the fact that one of the key causes of panther deaths is collisions with vehicles.
Punching more roads into panther habitat can’t help, critics contend.
The controversy reminded me of a local case in 1976 when an oil driller obtained a lease to drill an exploratory oil well under Lake Pierce near Lake Wales.
That plan involved drilling at an angle from lakefront property in an area occupied at the time by an attraction called Masterpiece Gardens on the lake’s southern shore. It involved a process described at the time as slant drilling.
Florida’s proposal to grant a mineral lease under the lake drew protests from environmentalists, but the permit was issued and drilling occurred.
However, apparently the exploration produced nothing promising and that was the last anyone heard of the effort.
At the time I learned there had been earlier prospecting efforts involving using equipment to gather seismic data along the U.S. 27 corridor, but nothing came of that, either.
In all of these cases the counterargument is that a successful venture will aid the local economy in some way, but critics wonder whether it’s worth it.
If you want to know more about the oil well controversy, go to http://stonecraballiance.com/aboutus.html or http://www.evergladesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Report-Oil-Gas-Impacts.pdf
Special thanks to Richard Charter