By Tom Jones, Christian Spilker
Senior Vice Presidents
Collier Resources Co.
Oil drilling in Florida started after World War II and has continued without interruption to the present day.
In Southwest Florida, oil drilling has mostly been focused in rural eastern Collier County and in what is now the Big Cypress Preserve. During the last 70 years, operating under strict state and federal supervision, more than 300 wells have been safely drilled to completion with no negative effects on water quality or the environment. There is a reason that a major road in eastern Collier County is known as Oil Well Road — it is a big part of our history.
As Collier County has grown, the population has shifted east, and families are now building homes in areas that have historically been rural and lightly populated. In recent months, some residents of eastern Collier County, and certain groups from outside the county, have objected to plans to drill an exploratory well in a farm field adjacent to eastern Golden Gate Estates. Concerns have been raised about water quality, noise, public safety and the Florida panther.
We believe that these concerns are understandable and we welcome the opportunity to respond fully. Accordingly, we have been willing to meet privately with concerned residents and we have participated in public meetings and workshops. In those meetings, we are most often asked how we can ensure that oil drilling does not contaminate our drinking water.
This is a logical question, and after 70 years of drilling activity, it is one that can be answered with a high degree of confidence. Unlike other parts of the country, oil exploration in Southwest Florida is not a new business and the geology is very well understood.
Oil in Southwest Florida is thick almost like tar and it is found more than two miles below the surface. The freshwater aquifer, as a point of reference, is located at a depth of a few hundred feet. Despite a separation of nearly two miles, state and federal regulatory standards require four layers of steel pipe, as well as a layer of concrete casing before the oil can be pumped to the surface. Because of the near absence of natural gas, the oil is not under high pressure. A successful oil well in Collier County will never produce the sort of “gusher” that is frequently portrayed in the news or in a movie.
Recently, we have also been questioned about an exploration technique known as horizontal drilling. In simple terms this means that once you have drilled to a depth of two miles it is possible to drill horizontally, or sideways, in order to explore an oil field. The first horizontal well was drilled in Collier County in the 1990’s and thus there is nothing new about this technique. Horizontal drilling is well regarded because it significantly reduces the number of wells that need to be drilled in order to explore an oil field. It is a common and well understood exploration method that minimizes impacts to the surface.
During the last several months, as we have listened to these and other concerns of nearby residents, we have realized that we need to do more. Number one, we need to do a better job communicating with our neighbors. Secondly, because the issue of water quality seems to be a primary concern, we have decided to establish a water monitoring protocol to ensure that a baseline quality is established and monitored for the life of the well. Finally, we have engaged an international engineering firm with extensive experience in oil exploration to review our protocols and safety plans and recommend areas where we can improve.
In summary, we recognize our responsibility to respond fully to any legitimate questions or concerns that have been expressed, and we intend to be good neighbors with the residents of eastern Golden Gate Estates.