Florida again rejects bid to search for oil in eastern Everglades

Up to 2,000 barrels of oil a day have been pumped from oil preserves at Raccoon Point in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Up to 2,000 barrels of oil a day have been pumped from oil preserves at Raccoon Point in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Miami Herald Staff

Florida environmental regulators have again rejected a bid from a Miami family to take oil exploration to the eastern Everglades, and into the path of a $16 billion effort to restore wetlands.

In its final order, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said the significance of the land in question — in historic Everglades marshes about six miles west of Miramar — outweighed the family’s right to drill a nearly 12,000-foot-deep well to look for oil. The state has also not issued any permits to look for oil in the Everglades in a half century, the order said.

The decision came as welcome news to Broward County and nearby cities, as well as environmentalists who have long fought drilling efforts in the Everglades.

“How crazy could this state become, with all the work being put into Everglades restoration, to then permit an oil well or an oil field just south of where this project is going,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association.

The Kanter family, which built a fortune in South Florida real estate, applied to drill an exploratory well in 2015 on 20,000 acres it purchased between 1975 and 1996 that’s part of a vast water conservation area managed by the South Florida Water Management District. The request was the first to look for oil in the eastern Everglades along the Sunniland Trend, a 150-mile-long stretch of shale between Miami and Fort Meyers that has been tapped along its western edge in the Big Cypress National Preserve by a Texas oil company for decades. The family argued that oil could likely be found to the east as well.

In November 2016, the state denied the application, claiming Kanter Real Estate failed to prove the likelihood that enough could be found to merit drilling. Kanter appealed the decision to an administrative law judge, who in October sided with the family.

The judge, Gary Early, concluded that the area where the family wants to install drilling operations on five acres, and known as the “Pocket,” is overrun by invasive cattails and provides no ecological benefit.

“Vegetation that grows in the Pocket dies in the Pocket,” creating a layer of muck atypical of Everglades wetlands, Early wrote. State-approved Big Cypress drilling, he added, occurs in far more pristine conditions.

Early also pointed to a 1989 survey done by Shell and said while the state is allowed to balance policy interests, it can’t deny a permit if an applicant proved — as he concluded — that oil could be found.

In an email Monday, DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said the state carefully considered Early’s 53-page recommendation, but ultimately rejected his recommendation in favor of protecting marshes.

The DEP is “committed to protecting Florida’s one-of-a-kind natural resources,” she wrote, “including the environmentally sensitive Everglades.”

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