Florida High Court Urged to Nix Everglades Drilling Plan

(CN) – The Florida Supreme Court has been asked to decide a years-long dispute over oil drilling in the Everglades that opponents say could lead to spills and hurt wildlife.

Broward County and the city of Miramar asked the state’s high court on Tuesday to review a March ruling from the First District Court of Appeal allowing a Miami company to drill an exploratory well on its property in the world famous “River of Grass.”

Kanter Real Estate LLC, owned by a banking and real estate family, applied for a permit in 2015 to drill on five acres of land in western Broward County. The company, which owns 20,000 acres in the area, included plans to mitigate storm water runoff and emissions of hydrogen sulfide gas while drilling more than 11,000 feet into the marshland.

The permit request sparked immediate opposition by environmental groups worried about possible spills and adverse effects on wildlife.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, or FDEP, denied the permit in 2016. The agency said the application did not satisfy state law because it “did not show a balance in favor of issuance when considering the nature, character and location of the lands involved.”

FDEP also expressed doubt the amount of oil collected would justify the impacts to the environment.

Kanter then petitioned the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. Last October, an administrative judge called the designated land “isolated” from the rest of the Everglades and ordered the permit issued. FDEP appealed and Broward County and Miramar joined the litigation.

In March, a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the administrative judge’s order to approve the permit, finding FDEP “relied on an unadopted rule which would in practice prohibit all exploratory oil drilling in the Everglades.”

The state appeals court then denied a request by FDEP, Broward County and Miramar for a hearing among all of its judges.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nicole Fried called the ruling “infuriating.”

“I hope that lawmakers and the Department of Environmental Protection will consider changes to protect the Everglades — our most precious natural resource, the only wilderness of its kind on Earth — from future oil drilling and fossil fuel profiteering,” she said in a statement last month.

In a single-page notice of appeal filed Tuesday, attorneys for Broward County and Miramar did not provide much information on why the Florida Supreme Court should take up the case, merely stating the appellate decision “expressly construes a provision of the state constitution and expressly and directly conflicts with a decision of another district court of appeal or of the Supreme Court on the same question of law.”

FDEP has not indicated the agency will join the litigation and did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Neither Kanter Real Estate nor its attorneys responded to a request for comment.

While proposed oil drilling off the Florida coast has received the most attention in recent years, companies are increasingly looking at extracting oil on the Sunshine State’s onshore lands.

According to FDEP records, more than 1,000 oil and gas wells are operating in Florida, including a handful in the Everglades region that date back to the 1930s. However, there has not been a new oil or gas well permit issued in more than 50 years, according to FDEP. 

Kanter’s expert testified during the administrative hearing that the company has a 23% chance of finding oil, which could bring in up to 10 million barrels.

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