A crucial legal battle caught the attention of the Floridian public in 2015 when Kanter Real Estate and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began their quarrel over Kanter’s proposed oil drilling permit in Miramar. This story made national news from its inception to its perceived end in late 2016, sparking an environmentalist uproar from the public to local government officials, many of which passed city council resolutions opposing this permit.
After Kanter’s permit request was denied in 2016, this outrage quietly subsided into oblivion. However, right under the public’s noses, Kanter revived the issue by petitioning the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) for a Formal Administrative Hearing to dispute the DEP’s denial rationale. The outcome of this hearing has, despite the issue’s importance, gone almost wholly unreported.
The Florida Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) on October 10 of this year determined that “[Kanter] demonstrated that it met the criteria for an exploratory oil well established in [Florida Law] section 377.241,” and most importantly that “the permit should be issued.” Administrative Law Judge Gary Early, in his recommended order, substantiated this controversial ruling by noting that evidence showed the risk to water is “insignificant” and less than other areas where the department allowed drilling.
If the Florida DOAH allows oil drilling permits more dangerous than this one to pass the permit approval process, there’s certainly a problem. Firstly, the natural landscape which surrounds this oil drilling area is just as important as the drilling itself because it serves to amplify the drillings potential harms. The 5-acre patch of land where the oil drilling may occur is located in an area that drains directly into the Everglades which is protected by the Everglades Forever Act. In fact, it designates the specific area in which the drilling may occur as a water conservation zone.
Under the Everglades Forever Act, there are three water conservation zones, with this zone being the third one. The Duke University Wetland Center notes the importance of this region, describing its primary use for “[the receiving of] flood waters from adjacent areas and [the storage of] them for beneficial municipal, urban, and agricultural uses.” However, the potential implications of an oil accident wouldn’t just stretch to our agriculture’s water, but our drinking water supply as well. Kanter itself describes its proposed oil drilling depth as ordinary, but the 11,800-foot depth isn’t the issue; the location of the well is.
Kanter notes that the point of their location choice is to target the Sunniland trend, an oil formation that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said extends across all of South Florida and west into the Gulf of Mexico. What they so conveniently ignore is that the Biscayne Aquifer, the sole provider of water for over 3 million people according to the USGS, also overlaps with their location. The USGS goes a step further though, noting that “because the Biscayne aquifer is highly permeable and is at or near the land surface practically everywhere, it is readily susceptible to groundwater contamination.” It’s even connected to the Floridan Aquifer, which is one of the world’s most productive aquifers, producing water for 10 million people.
Additionally, there is a significant safety concern regarding hydrogen sulfide, which was used as a chemical weapon by the British in WW1, and is a natural product of drilling that has the propensity to leak. To Kanter’s credit, they have gone to extreme lengths to reassure the public of their contingency plans’ solvency by following and even going beyond the recommended procedures, yet, we’ve seen unfortunate incidences occur with this chemical in 1975, 2005, 2006, 2014, 2016 and even earlier this year. While their safety may be probable, it is still at least concerning that an adverse outcome is possible.
Supporters of environmentally reckless drilling usually ignore arguments like these, dismissing them as vast overreactions to good corporate tactics. Instead, they frame this issue in an economic context, claiming that the economic benefits of increased oil production outweigh the concerns over environmental harms. To the contrary; the environment, especially the Everglades, is connected directly to the economy.
The water supply of 3 million people, for instance, translates not only to humanistic impacts, but to economic peril if removed. The average monthly water bill ranges between $10-30; even if this is low-balled to $10 the overall monthly value of this water would be $30 million, making its annual worth $360 million.
A hypothetical oil spill would, also, impact tourism. Of course, people don’t want to come to see our Everglades when it’s doused in oil, and this isn’t just conjecture.
“The Gulf fishing and tourism industries produce $3.5 to $4.5 billion a year,” The Balance staff writer Kimberly Amadeo wrote. “[After the BP oil spill] it cost BP $4 billion to contain and clean up the mess.”
We’ve seen these tourism impacts occur previously and a spill of similar magnitude in Florida would be far worse because, in this case, it would drain directly into the Everglades.
Yes: there’s no environmental benefit and few economic positives resulting from this oil drilling proposal, but that’s not why the Florida DEP initially rejected it. In response to the DEP’s initial rejection, within their amended petition filed on January 31st of this year, Kanter argued that the DEP simply “[recited] the statutory criteria of Section 377.241 … without [specifying] factual allegations identifying deficiencies in the oil and gas drilling application.” This analysis of the formalized denial notice is accurate. However, interpretation of the denial from David Fleshler at the Sun Sentinel, DEP officials statements and even the denial itself support the claim that the reason was the lack of evidence of the presence of oil in the area.
“Specifically,” the denial reads, “the applicant’s information did not show a balance in favor of issuance when considering the nature, character and location of the lands involved, the nature, type and extent of ownership of the applicant; and the proven or indicated likelihood of the presence of oil in such quantities as to warrant the exploration and extraction of such products on a commercially profitable basis.”
Or, as Fleshler simply put it, “in denying the application, the [DEP] said the company failed to show that enough oil was there to justify a project at that location.”
“In general, testimony based on literature review does show that the Kanter site is within a region where success is likely,” the DEP explained, essentially conceding to Kanter.
Interestingly enough, just pages before their backing of Kanter’s position, the Florida DEP subtly delegitimized the expert witness testimony used to substantiate Kanter’s position.
“The evidence derived from literature was highly generalized, with uncertain sources,” the DEP explained. “For example, Mr. Aldrich (a Kanter expert witness) relied upon a map included in a 2008 Department of Interior report as support for the statement that the proposed site was within an area where there was a high likelihood that oil fields could be found.”
In the end, Kanter conceded to the lack of high probability of oil, just as the DEP acknowledged the likelihood of its presence, which gave Kanter all necessary legal criteria for the permit.
The only benefits of this drilling, in summary, go either into Kanter’s pockets, or into our car’s gas tanks. On the other hand, the possible harms could transform Florida into the next Flint, Michigan, and the economic damages could counterbalance whatever gains this drilling proposal could ever hope to achieve.
Don’t fret yet; hope is still alive because Kanter, due to the Water Conservation Zone, may need a federal permit. Moreover, they will need a local zoning law exemption from the Broward County Government to drill because this land is explicitly not allowed to be drilled upon by the Broward 1993 SFWMD Resolution. Also, the DEP can still deny the permit, though it would subject them to a circuit court suit.
South Florida residents who are concerned about the impact of this issue on their water supply can help to halt Kanter’s drilling attempt by contacting one of their Broward County Commissioners. They have already expressed their strong opposition to the drilling, and yet, Kanter wouldn’t have gone so far into this rigorous approval process if they didn’t view the swaying of the commission as probable. Thus, it is now up to the public to voice support for the commission’s current position and to demand that Kanter cease this environmentally reckless endeavor immediately. If even 1% of the 3 million people reliant on the Biscayne Aquifers water contacted a commissioner, those 30,000 people would make the necessary difference today.
Commissioner List and Contact Information
District No. 1: Nan H. Rich 954-357-7001
District No. 2: Mark D. Bogen, 954-357-7002
District No. 3: Michael Udine 954-357-7003
District No. 4: Chip LaMarca 954-357-7004
District No. 5: Steve Geller 954-357-7005
District No. 6: Beam Furr 954-357-7006
District No. 7: Tim Ryan 954-357-7007
District No. 8: Barbara Sharief 954-357-7008
District No. 9: Dale Holness 954-357-7009
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay