Drilling for Florida Oil

As we guard our coastlines against drilling, Texas oil companies are quietly drilling for oil in our backyards. In fact, oil drilling in Florida’s Everglades and Big Cypress Preserve has been going on since the 1930’s. However, recent permits issued in Collier County, east of Naples, represent a new threat. These operations involve drilling for oil at depths up to 25,000 feet using a mix of chemicals the state wants to exempt from disclosure. The waste chemicals resulting from oil drilling include Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylene (BTEX). These carcinogenic BTEX chemicals endanger our aquifer and people’s lives. In addition to chemical injection, the use of salt water threatens intrusion into the Naples wellfield – the drinking water supply for thousands. Although not ” fracking’ as we typically consider it, Florida Acid Fracking involves injecting massive quantities of fresh water, toxic chemicals and even salt water into the limestone below our aquifer – dissolving it to free up dirty fossil fuels. Thirty percent of these injection fluids are not returned to the surface. This stew of acid fracking chemicals is injected into an aqueous layer below the Floridan Aquifer called the “Boulder Zone.” This zone is so named because its cavernous spaces are the size of boulders. This salty, aqueous layer doesn’t prevent the upward migration of lighter-than-water chemicals into our groundwater aquifer. And, because the salinity and temperature of the Boulder Zone is similar to that of modern seawater, it is thought to be connected to the Gulf and Atlantic Ocean.Over 115,000 acres have been leased for wells in Collier County, including a permit to drill a 16-25,000 foot injection well, known as the Golden gate disposal well, in a neighborhood east of Naples. Other leases are close to the Fakahatchee Strand and the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. There is no federal protection against fracking or its chemicals under the Safe Drinking Water Act because Congress passed an exception for fracking in 2005. That must change. Although the permit for the Golden Gate disposal well sailed through Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, a local community group, Preserve Our Paradise, has filed suit against the disposal well with the EPA. Florida Senator Bill Nelson has called for an EPA hearing, but EPA has pulled back from confirming the hearing date and location and has shown an unwillingness to stand up to the fracking industry.EPA needs to do the right thing and set a field hearing date for the Golden Gate disposal wells. The risk to our water is not worth the reward for these destructive efforts. Since swamp drilling began in Florida in the 1930’s, all the oil produced has not added up to one day of current U.S. production. In fact, when asked about Florida drilling, Edward Glab, Florida International University professor and former Exxon executive asked, “the question in my own mind is whether the juice is worth the squeeze.” The risks to Florida’s fragile ecosystem just don’t justify the “reward” and are not restricted to Naples. We’ve learned from the Tampa Bay Times that drilling, mining and groundwater rights have been sold under housing developments elsewhere in Florida. GRN continues to support efforts to protect Florida’s water, people and climate from drilling and dirty fuels.Cathy Harrelson is GRN’s Florida Organizer.

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