BY KAREN HOFFMANN – MAY 1, 2014
Regulatory agencies aren’t carefully assessing the impact of ramped up oil and gas exploration in southwest Florida, say critics
When you think of oil drilling, South Florida probably doesn’t immediately come to mind. But rising oil prices are bringing increasing oil and gas exploration projects to southwest Florida, home of the Everglades, and they are already putting environment at risk.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently slapped a $25,000 fine on the Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Company for injecting unapproved acid into Florida’s vulnerable underground limestone formations in the middle of Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks. Yet the DEP recently approved another request by Dan Hughes to drill near another protected areas — the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge — despite vehement opposition from residents and environmental groups.
Photo by Marcel Hujser
Though oil drilling seems at odds with South Florida, which is known for its wildlife parks and agricultural reserves, fact is, drilling has been going on in this region ever since Humble Oil bored its first well in Collier County in 1943. The US Geological Survey’s most recent estimates show that there are about 370 million barrels of undiscovered oil in South Florida. Energy companies are eager to get that oil out of the ground.
Most of the recent drilling applications have been for exploratory wells — “wildcats” in industry parlance. First, companies drill an exploratory well to see if there’s any oil. If there isn’t, they plug it up and move on. If there is, they drill another well to inject the wastewater, called brine, into the ground.
These injection wells are the main threats to the environment. From Ohio to Texas, they have a record of leaking. The US Environmental Protection Agency notes that brine from oil and gas extraction may contain “toxic metals and radioactive substances” and “can be very damaging to the environment and public health if it is discharged to surface water or the land surface.”
But Florida’s permeable geologic formations present new and unstudied risks as well. Because of the porous limestone that makes up the southwest Florida’s bedrock, it’s possible that the wastewater could migrate upward into the groundwater that millions of Floridians drink.
Given these concerns, you might assume the EPA and DEP would carefully study the environmental impacts before issuing a permits for such wells — especially in environmentally sensitive areas. But this is Florida (cue the chirping cicadas), where it seems, anything goes. . The Big Cypress National Preserve, incidentally, is already home to 11 wells. More at Earth Island Journal >