By David Fleshler
November 27, 2017
A proposal for an exploratory oil well in the Everglades of western Broward County was rejected again Monday by state regulators, although this is unlikely to be the final act in a Miami family’s persistent attempts to extract oil from its land.
Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, signed a final order turning down the application of Kanter Real Estate LLC to drill in marshy wilderness about six miles west of Miramar.
In issuing this decision, the department rejected the recommendation for approval by a state administrative law judge.
“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is committed to protecting Florida’s one-of-a-kind natural resources, including the environmentally sensitive Everglades, and administering Florida’s environmental laws,” the department said in a written statement accompanying the order. “After careful review and consideration, DEP today executed a final order denying Kanter Real Estate’s application for a drilling permit in the Everglades.”
Company president John Kanter said the family was “very disappointed” with the decision, since the judge had recommended approval after hearing all the evidence. He declined to discuss the family’s legal options but made clear that the fight was far from over.
“We will be assessing our options and take a suitable course of action to protect our property rights in the face of today’s decision by the DEP secretary to ignore the findings and recommendation of impartial and unbiased judge,” he said.
Kanter Real Estate represents the family of Joseph Kanter, a Miami banker, real estate developer and philanthropist who helped found Lauderhill and several other communities. He accumulated more than 20,000 acres of the southwest Broward Everglades for a town that was never built.
The company applied for a permit for a single exploratory well, proposing to drill to a depth of 11,800 feet on a six-acre site to see if there was enough oil to be worth extracting.
Matthew Schwartz, executive director of South Florida Wildlands Association, which had fought the permits, said his organization was “delighted” with the decision.
“Oil drilling is an inherently messy business wherever it takes place,” he said. “Spills large and small are a part of this industry. And even under routine operations, placing a massive oil pad filled with chemicals and industrial equipment in the middle of the Everglades — and in the middle of the drinking water supply for an entire region — in an area that was earmarked for restoration decades ago makes no sense.”
After their initial application for a permit was rejected by the state, the family went to court. They won last month, when a state administrative judge issued a ruling recommending that the state environmental department reverse its decision and issue a drilling permit, finding that the work was unlikely to threaten groundwater, would take place in an already degraded section of the Everglades and appeared to have a good chance of finding a significant amount of oil.
The judge’s decision forced the state to review its action, and on Monday the state issued its final order, affirming its previous decision to deny the permit.
The order noted that the last drilling permit for the Everglades was issued in 1967 — 50 years ago. Given the importance the state places on the South Florida wilderness, as shown by the Legislature in the Everglades Forever Act, the order said “the balance tips against issuance of an oil and gas permit to drill an exploratory well in the environmentally sensitive Everglades.”