Sun Sentinel

October 18,2017

Oil-drilling plan revived for Broward Everglades

By: David Fleshler

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-reg-everglades-oil-drilling-20171018-story.html

A State judge has revived an oil-drilling proposal for the Everglades of western Broward County, recommending that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issue a drilling permit to the company that owns the land.

Kanter Real Estate LLC, which represents the family of pioneering South Florida developer Joseph Kanter, had applied for a permit for a single exploratory well in wetlands about six miles west of Miramar. The company, which owns about 20,000 acres of the Everglades, proposed to drill to a depth of 11,800 feet on a six-acre site to see if there was enough oil to be worth extracting.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection rejected the company’s application, which had generated considerable local opposition, citing the impact to wetlands and lack of evidence that sufficient oil was there.

But Florida Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early found that the work was unlikely to threaten groundwater, would take place in an already degraded section of the Everglades and appeared to have a good chance of finding a significant amount of oil.

“The Department has previously permitted oil wells within the greater Everglades, in areas of a more pristine environmental nature, character, and location than the Pocket,” he wrote, referring to the area in which the well was proposed.

The judge’s decision revived a proposal that had seemed all but dead.

“We’re gratified at the judge’s decision,” said John Kanter, the company’s president. “This is just a step in a long process that we intend to continue.”

Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, which had fought the project, said he was “extremely disappointed” at the green light for a project that “has no business being in the Everglades.”

“It may not be pristine Everglades, but it’s the Everglades,” he said. “It supports a wide variety of species, including the snail kite, Everglades mink and wood storks. Oil and the Everglades are a terrible mixture.”

In his 57-page ruling, the judge said the drilling procedure proposed by Kanter would protect underground water supplies from contamination.

“The fact that the proposed well will penetrate the Biscayne Aquifer does not create a significant risk of contamination of the Biscayne Aquifer,” he wrote. “The drilling itself is no different than that done for municipal disposal wells that penetrate through the aquifer much closer to areas of water production than is the Well Site.”

Based on testimony from oil experts and evidence presented by the company, the project has a better chance of finding a lot of oil than most exploratory wells, he wrote.

“The evidence in this case supports a finding that reserves could range from an optimistic estimate of 3 to 10 million barrels, to a very (perhaps unreasonably) conservative estimate of 200 barrels per acre over 900 acres, or 180,000 barrels,” he wrote. “In either event, the preponderance of the evidence adduced at the hearing establishes an indicated likelihood of the presence of oil in such quantities as to warrant its exploration and extraction on a commercially profitable basis.”

The judge’s ruling is a recommended order, which gives the environmental department some room to reject it. Under the law, the department must usually accept the judge’s findings of fact but can reject his conclusions of law. If the department again rejects the application, the company can sue in circuit court.