Sun Sentinel: House passes bill to prevent oil drilling in the Everglades
House passes bill to prevent oil drilling in the Everglades
By David Fleshler
An initiative to thwart an oil drilling plan in the Everglades passed the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, putting a potential hurdle in front of a controversial project proposed for western Broward County.
But not a single Republican voted for the larger spending bill of which the initiative was a part, making its passage in the Republican-controlled Senate appear uncertain.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat whose district covers parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, proposed the initiative as an amendment to a spending bill for federal agencies involved in energy and water.
“We must do all we possibly can to protect our sensitive River of Grass,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement Wednesday. “Drilling within the Everglades Protection Area is reckless, rapacious and symbolizes just how much those who advocate for the senseless pursuit of fossil fuels will risk, even if it destroys our most treasured ecosystems. It’s absurd it even has to be said, but we must fight any drilling in the Everglades.”
John Kanter, president of the company, declined comment.
The amendment would impose a one-year moratorium on the issuance of wetlands permits by the Army Corps of Engineers in the Broward portion of the Everglades. The moratorium would last from Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020.
Kanter Real Estate LLC, which has won a series of court fights over its proposal for an exploratory well in western Broward County, needs a Corps permit to destroy wetlands on the site.
The company had proposed to drill an exploratory well about 11,800 feet below the surface, at a 5-acre site about 5 miles west of U.S. 27 and 10 miles south of Alligator Alley. The company’s expert testified that there was a 23 percent chance of finding oil, considered high by industry standards, and if oil were found, it could be possible to extract 180,000 to 10 million barrels.
The need for a Corps permit could put additional hurdles in front of the company, whether or not Wasserman Schultz’s amendment also clears the Senate. Aside from the chance of a moratorium, the company faces the possibility of a lengthy, expensive and uncertain approval process because of the elaborate environmental review that might be required.
The Corps told Kanter that it would require the preparation of an environmental impact statement, a thick document that can take more than a year to produce. The process typically involves public meetings, provides opportunities for written public comments and requires extensive consultation with government agencies.
The company filed a letter asking the Corps to reevaluate its decision that an environmental impact statement was warranted. Erica Skolte, spokeswoman for the Corps, said a decision will be made by the end of summer.
The South Florida Wildlands Association, which has participated in the legal fight, filed a letter with the Corps arguing that an environmental impact statement should be required because the approval of an oil drilling operation constituted “a major federal action which will lead to significant impacts to the local environment.”
The group cited the Everglades’ unique status as a renowned natural area and the possibility of spills from the variety of fuels and chemicals that would be used in the work.
Receive regular email updates from Debbie