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Drill in the Everglades? You’re Kidding Me

Florida’s Everglades: one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

Florida’s Everglades: one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

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.

Critically endangered Florida panther.  Image courtesy National Wildlife Federation.

Critically endangered Florida panther. Image courtesy National Wildlife Federation.

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.

Endangered Florida Manatee in freshwater habitat – Crystal River, Fl

Endangered Florida Manatee in freshwater habitat – Crystal River, Fl

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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  • Ethan Allen

    Wow! And the people cried; ” My name is…Doesn’t Matter”
    Corporate Media is the very successful weapon of propaganda used to destroy America. By manipulating good citizens beliefs using fear…(Did I hear ‘terrorism). When fact is to embrace renewable Energy would put so many to work. R&D, manufacture, sales, installation, and maintence of solar and wind energy farms and residential products/ and services. It is the Big Oil money given to basically ALL mainline media portals that makes this possible. Gotta have some fun with it though, hehe -> I cant believe I actually agree with a Mitt Romney statement! Therefore I must conclude he was lying.
    brings me to think about the Alaskan drilling, now moving foreward incrementally.
    A project which will devastate the Caribou, starve thousands of Polar Bears and their cubs to death… severely impacting the environment in every way. An Environment which, already due to GW has begun to melt and will cost in the short term many $millions if not more just to cope with this manifestation of GW realities. This can be seen as the permafrost frozen for centuries upon which towns have been built is failing and buildings are literally falling over,…but I digress.
    Just find it funny no Family Value oriented Republican supported a man MITT who believed in a patently uhm, let say questionable religion that as of this very moment promotes Legality to marry a 15 yr old girl no matter your age and in fact marry 5 of them as long as your income can support them. ? Conscience some have called the Voice of God. No matter what one calls Concscience, no matter whether one accepts or rejects its thorn in our brain, None can deny if the Golden Rule is applied this is outrageous, patently wrong, and more than a crime against women is actually god ordered child molestation.
    Which brings me back to the Florida Keys and the precious animals which call it home. Back, to the majority of Florida’s population who depend on it one way or another, often without making the specific connection to protecting this awesome national, even global, treasure. If We The People do not speak out…WHO is it then who will speak out when the powers that be come for us? Going after the Floridian and Alaskan wilderness is a direct assault on our childrens future. Guess parents wont notice just like they missed it when the congress attacked and defunded the public school system. DEstroying most children’s hope that hard work and good grades could lift him/her and her family above poverty levels.
    The Chant that echoes in the de[populated towns rings loud and clear; DRILL, DRILL, DRILLL. as heard over and over at the RNC in 2008 and 2012. Flippant Arrogant Bullies. Always disliked bullies! I could see Chris Christy as our next bullsh#%* artist. …= /

  • Max Kennedy

    This is as stupid,as drilling in the Arctic, more so as it threatens an already established and very lucrative economy in addition to a vibrant biotic community. Let’s leave some wild area’s alone.

  • Jessica Kennedy

    Hi Ethan & Max Thanks so much for your comments!
    I agree with both of you! Drilling in the Everglades is beyond comprehension. We keep hearing about how renewable energy, or even switching to natural gas (it’s at least a step away from oil and coal) can satisfy our energy needs – why even bother to destroy such a brittle ecosystem? It’s in enough trouble already ~ the state is admitting the Burmese python invasion is out of control, and it will definitely suffer from sea level rise.
    I can’t imagine this company will make any money from this project – hopefully it will will figure out the cost (financial and social/environmental) is just plain not worth the pittance of oil they would even possibly extract.

  • Lenora

    My family has worked in the oil fields here in South Florida since the 1960’s. I understand the concerns, but there are several wells already drilled in the Everglades. They have been there for years. I’m always surprised that people do not already know this. This is not something new that is being proposed. This is happening. It has been happening. It’s not going to stop happening. There will be more wells. Several have been drilled in the past few years. Google Raccoon Point, Sunniland, Breitburn Energy. Don’t be naive.

  • Jessica Kennedy

    Yes there are existing oil fields in South Florida, and they have been in operation since about the 40’s as I stated above.
    The reason I have serious issues with more drilling is that the fields that are already there produce an infinitesimal amount of oil compared to the national output. Only about 2%. Frankly, we could do without it entirely at this point through alternative energy sources and efficiency.
    I doubt more wells will be authorized, particularly in the national park area. Geological studies, if done correctly, should confirm that the bedrock there is not suitable for drilling. It is too fragile and too porous. Drilling that type of limestone runs too big a risk of spills and leaks. I would assume an accurate cost-benefit would exclude the Everglades as an acceptable place to set up shop for oil companies.
    If we are so desperate for oil we’re willing to destroy one of our countries national treasures, we need to face and defeat the oil addiction.