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State denies permit for Immokalee oil well

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) denied Trend Exploration an oil and gas drilling permit Nov. 5. The location of the well was slated to be about 2.3 miles from the Immokalee Reservation.

In a Nov. 4 letter to the FDEP, Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. requested the permit be denied since the reservation’s water wellfields, which provide water for tribal members on the 600-acre reservation, could be threatened with contamination.

“Like other municipalities, the Seminole Tribe blends the raw water it pulls from the aquifer directly into the distribution system with minimal treatment. The proximity of the proposed exploratory oil well to the Immokalee Reservation’s potable water well fields has the potential to introduce contaminants or harmful by-products into the production wells, which could result in subsequent pollution of drinking water to Immokalee Reservation residents,” Chairman Osceola wrote.

He also noted the Seminole Tribal Historic Preservation Office wanted confirmation that a cultural resource assessment survey be included as a condition for approval of the permit. FDEP had concerns about the impact to the region’s water supply, which comes from the Big Cypress Watershed; the tribe had a discussion with the agency before the letter was sent.

“We worked tirelessly to bring everything together,” said Paul Backhouse, Heritage & Environment Resource Office
(HERO) Senior Director and THPO Officer. “It will make it harder for Trend Exploration to get a permit for Big Cypress (Watershed).”

Trend Exploration wanted to drill a well more than two miles deep. In its denial document, FDEP stated “the
application and supporting documentation do not sufficiently ensure that the exploration activities will cause no permanent adverse impact on the wildlife of the area, which is required for all projects in the Big Cypress Watershed.”

“The applicant [Trend Exploration] was overly confident, but they hadn’t dealt with the tribe before,” said Stacy Myers, HERO senior scientist and liaison. “They were sort of surprised. I think it was a very good decision to deny it.”

The tribe showed that the reservation was in the 20-year cone of influence, which means within 20 years if even one drop of oil is spilled, it will ultimately affect the water. Myers said it might take 20 years to get to Immokalee’s water, but it would get there and contaminate it.

“As long as it is potentially affecting it, even over a long period of time, there is still an impact,” Myers said.

If Trend Exploration, a North Fort Myers-based company, files an appeal of the decision the burden of proof will be on it to prove what it wants to do isn’t going to cause harm to the water or wildlife.

“I think they will have a difficult time proving that,” Myers said. “A lot more people are very wary of what they are trying to do, so there could potentially be more objections if they win on appeal.”

On Nov. 24, Trend Exploration submitted an extension of time request to file a petition for an administrative hearing. According to the request, Trend wants a 90-day extension to prepare its petition seeking an administrative hearing.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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