Florida Conservation Groups Fight Onshore Drilling Expansions
Friday, December 13, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Faced with strong bipartisan opposition to offshore drilling, some oil companies are finding success by tapping deeper into Florida's little-known onshore oil-drilling industry.
The Sunshine State has been producing oil from wells in southwest Florida and the Panhandle for decades. The controversial practice has been challenged with numerous lawsuits for operating in some of the state's most pristine natural areas.
Georgia Ackerman, riverkeeper and executive director with the group Apalachicola Riverkeeper, says she wants Gov. Ron DeSantis and state regulators to reverse course on allowing drilling in the Apalachicola River Basin, the same way they fight offshore drilling.
"We understand the threats that that brings to our coastal waters and shorelines,” says Ackerman. “Onshore drilling close to rivers, near wetlands and floodplains presents some of the same types of risks."
Regulators in the Oil and Gas program at Florida's Department of Environmental Protection gave the green light to Dallas-based Cholla Petroleum to drill six exploratory wells, which environmental scientists argue could put water supplies throughout the Panhandle at risk.
A spokesperson for the environmental agency said "oil and gas permits, including exploratory, are carefully evaluated under Florida law... to ensure that all aspects of the operation will follow the law and are protective of the environment."
But Ackerman says even minor accidents could be harmful during high and low tides.
"You can imagine oil contaminants or the types of chemicals that are associated with drilling,” says Ackerman, “that getting mixed into our wetlands and waterways presents a challenge."
DEP also approved Spooner Petroleum of Mississippi conducting exploratory drilling in Gulf County. The Kanter Real Estate group recently won approval to drill an exploratory well in the Everglades ecosystem after a legal battle that started in 2015.
While those plans move forward over the objections of environmental groups, oil drilling within 125 miles of the Florida coast has been banned since 2006. That moratorium is set to expire in 2022.
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