DEP responds: There's no oil drilling in the Everglades (but doesn't mention region)
We're a day late in getting to this post but the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday sent a biting response to the letter from Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, asking them to halt permits for oil and gas exploration in the Everglades.
In fact, Soto may have been trapped in a bit of semantics — the permits appear to be issued on the edge of the Everglades not within the actual Everglades National Park as we know it. Nonetheless, DEP explained that the agency "has never even received an application for oil and gas exploration in the Everglades. In fact, there has never been a single permit issued for any oil and gas exploration in the Everglades." Click to download the DEP repsonse to Darren Soto re: Everglades (PDF)
"While there are challenges to restoration efforts in The Everglades, oil and gas exploration is not one of them," Vinyard wrote.
Vinyard may be technically right but his letter did not explain why there are investors hoping to search for oil on the western edge of the Everglades in Naples and in the Big Cypress National Preserve, as reported in the Saturday's Orlando Sentinel.
In fact, the Miami Herald reported last year on the move by oil companies to purchase mineral rights for speculative oil drilling covering massive swaths of Collier, Lee and Hendry counties — which border the massive Everglades park. Environmentalists are concerned about the impact wells will have on groundwater in the ecologically-sensitive region, and on the wilderness prowled by endangered Florida panthers, black bears, wild turkeys and other wildlife.
To get the historical context correct, consider that oil drilling has actually had a long history in Southwest Florida. According to Curtis Morgan's report in the Herald, Humble Oil first discovered black gold in 1943 in what was known as the Sunniland Trend, "a 20-mile-wide formation about 11,000 feet down that runs across much of the lower peninsula, from Fort Myers through the Big Cypress and narrowing as it crosses the Everglades toward Miami." For the next 40 years, companies drilled hundreds of wells in 14 fields in Florida, pumping out a peak of some 17,000 barrels a day by the 1970s.
Perhaps that explains why there's a renewed interest in exploration, and Vinyard's letter is a bit incomplete. Bills have been filed again this year in anticipation of oil and gas fracking occurring in the region.
Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, has two bills — HB 71 and HB 157 — that would set state guidelines for reporting on the chemicals used in oil and gas hydraulic fracturing and offer companies a public records exemption for "trade secrets." The bills failed to clear the House last year and are reportedly versions of those promoted by the conservative-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC.