A South Florida family that made its fortune in real estate asked the state this week to drill an exploratory oil well in marshes just west of Broward County suburbs, marking the first time the search for Everglades crude has extended so far east.
“As second generation Floridians and owners of this property for over 50 years, we are excited about the opportunities this land and these resources will provide for Florida,” John Kanter, president of Kanter Real Estate, said in a statement. He declined a request for an interview.
The request for a drilling permit, the first step in what would likely be a lengthy review process, came as a surprise to environmentalists. While there has been a renewed surge of interest in exploring and drilling in existing oil fields in Southwest Florida, that had cooled with falling oil prices. And no company has previously targeted anything near the proposed location, along a major drainage canal about a half-dozen miles west of U.S. 27 and Miramar.
“I’m just kind of shaking my head,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, which opposes expanded drilling. “I guess it was just a matter of time, but it’s interesting with oil prices plummeting that they decided to start drilling .... I would imagine the reaction from the community to drilling that close to the urban area would be intense.”
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The well would be a traditional vertical well that could go nearly 12,000 feet deep, a Kanter spokeswoman said, and is intended to tap into the vast Sunniland trend, an oil formation that the U.S. Geological Survey said extends across all of South Florida and west into the Gulf of Mexico. The application from the Kanter Corp. of Florida, based in Miami, is the first step in a “long-term plan” that the company says also would include rock mining, another major concern for environmentalists.
If approved, the well would be the first so far east of the small drilling operations in the Big Cypress Preserve, which have hummed along for decades. Only one well has ever been dug in Broward County, said Florida Department of Environmental Protection communications director Lauren Engel. In 1985, a Texas company drilled just inside western Broward County line near Collier County. The well was plugged and abandoned the same year.
Shell Oil also surveyed section of far western Broward in the 1980s using thumper trucks, which send vibrations deep into the earth in search of oil, but drilled no wells.
Burnett Oil, another Texas company, has asked the National Park Service to expand the search for oil in Big Cypress, also using thumpers. But in June, Burnett dramatically scaled back its request after fierce opposition from environmentalists.
Audubon Florida executive director Eric Draper wondered whether the family might be angling for leverage in a legal fight with the state, which uses the land as part of its vast water conservation area to hold water for flood control.
“There have been some huge payouts to landowners in the [water conservation areas] arguing property rights claims because they cannot use their land,” he said in an email.
In a statement, the family said it purchased 20,000 acres more than 50 years ago. John Kanter’s father, Joseph, an Alabama native who became one of the top 10 apartment builders in the 1940s and 50s and later a banker, told the Herald in 1983 that he bought the land hoping to build a new city in the Everglades.
“Broward County has to expand, and that will be the land that will come up next,” he said.
Drilling on the Sunniland trend has so far been limited to a few locations in Lee County, Hendry and Collier counties, much of it crisscrossing Everglades wetlands.
According to Kanter’s application, the drilling operation would be contained on five acres, reached by roads along the L-67A levee.
DEP regulators have up to 30 days to determine if the application is complete and could ask for more information before moving forward, Engel said. The family would also need to obtain a water use permit from the South Florida Water Management District, said spokesman Randy Smith.
In addition to searching for oil, drilling could also be used to search for quality limestone. The family said mining operations could potentially provide more storage for water. But environmentalists say pits pose too big a risk of contamination to drinking water supplies in the shallow Biscayne Aquifer and argue that restoring wetlands to their natural condition would be far more beneficial.
Because a drilling operation would occur on habitat for endangered species including Florida panthers, Everglades snail kites, Cape Sable seaside sparrows and wood storks, and could generate gallons and gallons of wastewater, federal permits could also be required.
“It’s a complicated process but that process has never stopped any drillers from going into sensitive areas,” Schwartz said. “It’s ironic that a rock mine could be considered a facilitator of Everglades restoration. It’s weird. But that’s Florida.”