Drill in the Everglades? You’re Kidding Me
The United States has only a few natural treasures, and the Florida Everglades is at the top of the list. These marshy wetlands in southern Florida support a wealth of biodiversity found nowhere else on Earth. Species like the Florida panther, which is critically endangered, live only in this habitat. It is disturbing news that the Everglades seem to be next on the list for oil and gas companies to start drilling.
NPR reports that the Dan A. Hughes Co, an oil company based in Texas, has already received permission to drill an exploratory well, and is now petitioning the state for permission to construct an injection well for disposal of the millions of gallons of toxic brine water that will be generated from the drilling process. A Florida resident living adjacent to the proposed site is quoted as saying, “Our biggest concern is the brine, the produced waters. Every gallon of oil that they extract, they will get 20 gallons of salt water. And that salt water is toxic.”
Surprisingly though, Southwest Florida does produce oil. Drilling started there in the 1940s, but these wells are not very productive, contributing less than one percent to total US production. The state produced about 17,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak – a drop in the bucket compared to the booming energy industry in states like Colorado and North Dakota. For example, Colorado had a record breaking year in 2013, producing over 60 million barrels of oil – more than ten times Florida’s peak output. Even if there is recoverable oil in the Everglades, the wells already operating nearby indicate there isn’t much of it.
As fuel prices rise, we seem to hear more arguments that it is worth the expense of seeking fossil fuels in unconventional places. Claims that energy production companies will create new jobs and boost economies are also common, but the employment rate for oil and mining jobs in Florida is extremely low compared to other industries. Even if this well is built, it wouldn’t mean more than a handful of additional jobs. Plus, it is important to note that any jobs created for oil exploration will be offset several times over if energy production has any kind of negative impact on the state’s tourism industry. Florida is, after all, one of the most visited destinations in the world, and its natural beauty is one of its main attractions.
Tourism is the lifeblood of Florida’s economy. Approving a new injection well in a renowned natural habitat degrades the area through construction and introduces the risk of accidental contamination to the entire ecosystem. The Deepwater Horizon event illustrates on a much larger scale, the risks that are inherent to the oil industry. An accident of that magnitude would be almost impossible from Dan A. Hughes Co.’s proposed work, but any environmental degradation is likely to thwart tourists.
In a formal comment to the EPA, the South Florida Audubon Society (SFAS) expressed these very concerns. The SFAS also argues that fracking might eventually be used in the area, which will almost certainly lead to environmental disasters:
Florida’s present oilfields are not contained within shale. . . Florida’s substrate consists of pervious limestone that presents absolutely no barrier against the contaminants used in fracking. The brine that will be pumped into the proposed injection well can easily escape through the limestone and penetrate both the Biscayne and Floridan Aquifers, the primary source of potable water for over 7 million Floridians and the tourists that keep South Florida alive and functioning.
Would the permission of drilling in the Everglades open the floodgates for other companies to invade the area with their own operations? It is a valid concern.
Many Floridian rivers, streams, and estuaries are already polluted, and these pollutants harm wildlife like dolphins, manatees, and fish. Chemicals seep into the wetlands due primarily to agriculture runoff. One of the functions of the Everglades ecosystem is to act as a sort of “purification” filter for water as it travels through the marshes and swamps to the sea. Chemicals that accumulate here include phosphorus and sulfates from fertilizers and mercury deposited from polluted rainwater. Invasive plant and animal species, and changes to natural water flow patterns, also threaten the complicated balance of life in the Everglades.
Basically, I’m going to agree with former Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney on this issue. When asked in 2007 if he would support drilling in the Everglades Romney responded:
You’re kidding? . . . Let’s take that off the table. We’re not going to drill in the Everglades. There are certain places in America that are national treasures and the Everglades is one of those.
With the challenges our national treasure is already facing, disrupting this brittle ecosystem for “exploratory drilling” is completely irresponsible. The Everglades are a natural resource for Florida, and the entire United States. It cannot possibly be worth the risk to this natural treasure to drill enough oil to make a drop in the barrel.
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