A plan for oil drilling in the Everglades ran into a major obstacle Wednesday, when the state of Florida went to court to stop it and promised to assist local governments in their own fight against the project.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection asked for a rehearing before all the judges of the First District Court of Appeal, where a three-judge panel had ordered the state to issue a drilling permit to Kanter Real Estate LLC for a spot in the Everglades of western Broward County.
“Protection of the Everglades is of exceptional public importance because it affects residents of the State of Florida as a whole,” the department said in its motion. “The restoration of the Everglades is a matter of heightened public interest, and public interest alone should be deemed sufficient to demonstrate that it affects large numbers of persons throughout the State of Florida.”
Kanter, which owns 20,000 acres in the Everglades, has proposed an exploratory well a few miles west of Miramar.
The company, which represents the family of real estate and banking figure Joseph Kanter, proposed a well that would extend about 11,800 feet underground at a 5-acre site about 5 miles west of U.S. 27 and 10 miles south of Alligator Alley. According to courtroom testimony by the company’s expert, the project has a 23 percent chance of finding oil. If oil were found, the company’s expert said it could be possible to extract 180,000 to 10 million barrels.
At a news conference Tuesday at the edge of the Broward Everglades, environmentalists and political leaders called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to authorize a continuation of the legal fight, saying the state should appeal the ruling.
Wednesday night, the Department of Environmental Protection announced the decision.
“Today, the Department filed a Motion for Rehearing and a Request to Certify the case to the Florida Supreme Court regarding the recent opinion reversing the Department’s decision to deny the Kanter Real Estate exploratory oil drilling permit,” the Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement. “The Department is committed to the protection and restoration of Florida’s Everglades and will work with Broward County and local municipalities to provide technical assistance as they pursue their own action regarding this matter. We will also monitor any federal regulatory actions related to this issue.”
Diana Umpierre, Everglades restoration organizer for the Sierra Club, said the group “appreciates that FDEP has decided to continue fighting to uphold their decision to deny this exploratory oil permit.”
“The future of South Florida is dependent on a restored Everglades, including key restoration projects in the Everglades Protection Area where Kanter Real Estate wants to explore for polluting fossil fuels,” she said.
The department, which had originally denied the permit, said it was right to do so, even though a judge had found the land was degraded and hydrologically isolated. The department said it was acting to protecting the larger Everglades, not a single 5-acre spot.
“It looked beyond the vicinity of the well pad and concluded that the broader region, in this case the Everglades as whole, was environmentally sensitive and should be protected,” the department said in its filing.
The governor had earned applause from the environmental movement, a group that typically favors Democrats, for his stands against the sugar industry, support for restoring the Everglades and initiatives against water pollution.
Although the company’s application for a drilling permit had been rejected by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection under the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, the company won twice in court, with the First District Court of Appeal ordering the state to issue the permit.
The Broward County Commission remains opposed to the project, suggesting the company may have a rough time obtaining the necessary permits and land-use changes. But the county has an obligation to issue permits where the legal requirements have been met, so it does not have the discretion to refuse certain permits simply because the commission opposes the project.