Running out of places to excavate oil, American energy companies are starting to eye Florida’s Everglades. The beautiful tropical wetlands of southern Florida have benefited from environmental protections previously, but now the oil industry is laying the groundwork for future drilling in the area.
The Department of Environmental Protection has been very adamant in claiming that no one has so much as filed a request to drill in the Everglades. However, as a writer of the Tampa Bay Times points out, this seems like more of “a bit of semantics.” Although no drilling will occur in the Everglades National Park, companies have made moves to purchase land that directly borders the protected park.
Besides, the Everglades extend well beyond what has been designated the national park’s boundary. Still, pretending for a moment that the parkland is the only area that matters, even that is at risk due to adjacent drilling and fracking. The environmental consequences of these activities are never contained to just the immediate area.
Jaime Duran, a resident of the Everglades, researched the likely harms after having an encounter he had with a representative for an oil company. Duran told NPR that the employee delivered a letter explaining that an oil well would be put on land just 1,300 feet from Duran’s house and that – as such – he was now living in an “evacuation zone.”
Due to his proximity to the well site, Duran is at risk of exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas leaks. Nonetheless, Duran is less frightened by that possibility than what he knows to be true. “[My] biggest concern is the brine, the produced waters,” he said. “[For] every gallon of oil that they extract, they will get 20 gallons of salt water, and that salt water is toxic.”
Duran’s neighboring land is not the only one in peril. The Sun Sentinel reports that oil companies are currently seeking permission to test acreage below the Big Cypress National Preserve for energy viability. Meanwhile, a Texas company has already received approval to drill next to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
Accordingly, conservationists are very concerned about the risk the oil wells would pose to the endangered Florida panther. Alas, the state of Florida enlisted an expert, Darrell Land, who testified that the drilling wouldn’t cause a problem. “Panthers have learned to coexist with all kinds of disruption,” said Land, which seems like a dubious claim considering that only about 150 of the creatures have managed to survive in the wild at this point.
Meanwhile other activists have voiced apprehension for the wellbeing of native black bear and wild turkey populations. Florida’s wildlife has at least one politician on its side. State Senator Darren Soto, a Democrat representing Orlando, wants Florida to stop issuing oil permits until lawmakers have an opportunity to fully discuss the ramifications of fracking and similar practices.
Currently, drilling in Florida is pretty minimal compared to other states. For example, Texas collects as much oil in a single day as Florida does in an entire year. If the energy industry get its way, however, it looks the Everglades could receive an oil-soaked makeover within the next few years.