The Sun Sentinel on drilling for oil in the Everglades:
Florida failed in its first effort to stop Everglades oil drilling. Others, however, still could succeed.
Ideally, Kanter Real Estate never would have advanced this far in its plan to drill in far southwest Broward County. But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection — under former Gov. Rick Scott — gave Kanter an advantage at the start that opponents couldn’t overcome.
Matthew Schwartz is executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, which filed a brief in support of the legal challenge to the well. He told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board that while DEP refused to give Kanter a drilling permit, the agency did issue an environmental use permit. By doing so, Schwartz said, DEP made the argument about only “a hole in the ground,” and not potential damage to the Everglades.
That’s the main reason why Broward County and the city of Miramar this month declined to take their case to the Florida Supreme Court.
In February, a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal overruled the state’s denial of the drilling permit and refused to give opponents — including the county and the city — a rehearing before the entire court. Even if the county and city had persuaded the Florida Supreme Court to take the case, the chances of stopping the well were slim.
Fortunately, Kanter won’t be drilling soon. The company must obtain other approvals from several agencies, which presents new opportunities for lawsuits.
From Broward County, Kanter needs a land-use change and permits for, among other things, vegetation removal. If the county blocks the company, Kanter might argue that the state court ruling overrules any local opposition. Still, the county should exercise as much oversight as possible.
The South Florida Water Management District must grant Kanter a consumptive use permit. The drill would require large amounts of water. Under the Scott-appointed district board and administration, approval probably would have been assured. The new board, which Gov. Ron DeSantis chose, may — and should — respond differently.
But the best option for stopping the well could be the approval Kanter needs from the Army Corps of Engineers. Kanter requires a dredge-and-fill permit because the company intends to destroy wetlands. Kanter must create enough space for the well itself and all support operations.
Schwartz points out that the 20,000-acre site is between two canals in a strategic part of the Everglades. Under the federal-state Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), water managers want to connect two conservation areas that are part of southern Florida’s hydrological system.
A lawsuit in federal court could argue that the drilling violates CERP and that the Army Corps should deny the permit. The Corps must allow public comment on the permit application, which takes a long time, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also would weigh in.
An oil well presents an unacceptable risk to the Everglades. A spill could contaminate the Biscayne Aquifer, a vital source of drinking water for South Florida.
Yet at one hearing, Carol Wehle made the preposterous argument that oil could not permeate the aquifer. Wehle is a former executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. She now works as a consultant. The hearing officer believed her.
This would be an exploratory well, with what geologists estimate is a 23 percent chance of striking oil. Those aren’t good odds. But Kanter would get a 100 percent tax write-off on the well. If the company hit oil, it surely would drill more wells. Kanter owns about 31 square miles in the Everglades. How would a drilling area that size be compatible with restoring the “River of Grass?”
At one point, John Kanter said his company would “conduct this project in a manner that would be highly protective of the environment.” We heard similar sentiment from BP just before the company’s Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in 2010 and caused the nation’s worst oil spill.
Florida already faces enough threats from the fossil fuel industry. The Trump administration may allow drilling off the Atlantic coast — for the first time — and nearer to the Gulf coast. The administration also proposes to relax drilling safety rules and to allow seismic testing in the Atlantic that could harm marine life.
Everglades drilling, however, could be the most dangerous and senseless threat. The federal and state governments may spend as much as $20 billion to save what remains of this unique system. Whatever it takes, we must keep drilling out of the Everglades.