While threats to the Everglades have historically arisen from agriculture, canal building, roads, and construction projects, energy development has suddenly emerged as the latest—and possibly most dangerous—threat. Never ending efforts by the offshore oil industry and its political allies to drill in the eastern Gulf of Mexico (in both federal and state waters) have the potential to wreak havoc on the marine and estuarine environments of the greater Everglades in ways never seen before. Impacts on the mangrove, seagrass, and coral reef ecosystems of south Florida would be incalculable in the event of a major spill making landfall in the Everglades. See NOAA study on the impacts of an oil spill on mangroves.
Outside U.S. waters and across the Florida Straits, a new threat looms as the government of Cuba plans to commence oil drilling in deep waters only 50 miles from the Florida Keys. Directly connected to south Florida by the Florida Current and in close proximity, the potential impact to our region’s inshore and offshore waters from these operations is enormous. Severe impacts to the marine environments of the Everglades from a major spill are almost assured.
In either of these scenarios, domestic or international drilling in the vicinity of the Everglades, even routine offshore oil drilling will produce a steady stream of pollution in the form of drilling fluids, drill tailings laid on the sea floor, ‘produced water’ (water containing oil which must be disposed of), and spills of chemicals used in everyday operations. The occasional disaster due to geological conditions, human error, technological malfunction, or a combination of factors, is an ever present reality. Offshore oil drilling has always been and will continue to be an ecologically dangerous business. The recent BP disaster in Gulf serves to remind us of just how bad it can get. See list of major offshore oil disasters below:
Not even the deep interior of the Big Cypress National Preserve—the heart of the western Everglades—is immune to the threat of new oil drilling. Proposals are on the table by Collier Resources Company to explore for oil on mineral claims which were never transferred to the federal government when the Colliers received a sizeable piece of downtown Phoenix, Arizona in exchange for the bulk of what became the Big Cypress National Preserve Addition Lands. The area being proposed for exploration is some of the most significant habitat which remains for the critically endangered Florida panther. A similar project was proposed—and dropped for now—by the Miami Dade County Commission which made a recent push to open oil drilling within the borders of the county’s Miami-Dade Jetport property inside the southwest corner of the preserve.
Another threat to the greater Everglades comes in the form of a license application by Florida Power and Light (FPL) to construct two new nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point plant in south Miami-Dade County. Situated directly on Biscayne Bay and adjacent to Biscayne National Park, two proposed reactors of over 1,000 MW each will be cooled by tens of millions of gallons per day of recycled Miami-Dade sewage. Water droplets released from the cooling towers along with steam will contain some constituents of that sewage—including a variety of pharmaceutical drugs that are impossible to remove completely in the recycling process. These will have dangerous consequences for the surrounding ecosystem as well as the Biscayne Aquifer.
In addition to the proposed cooling towers, miles of cooling canals (more or less a gigantic 5,000 acre radiator) have already been constructed by FPL on former mangroves for the existing Turkey Point generators (2 nuclear, 3 fossil fuel). This canal system has not only caused the direct loss of a significant mangrove community, but the hot hyper-saline water in the canals has been shown to be a source of salt water intrusion in the underlying Biscayne Aquifer.
To move this new energy to points north, FPL is also including in their license application a major new powerline through residential areas of Miami-Dade in addition to three enormous transmission lines across the eastern border of Everglades National Park. Not only will these lines become the new industrial landscape for the park’s eastern horizon, degrading its wilderness characteristics in the process, but they will disrupt the ecosystem of the East Everglades Expansion Area originally purchased by the federal government to protect that system. Impacts on wetlands and surface water flow, spread of invasive plant species along the transmission corridor, disturbances to reptiles, amphibians and other terrestrial animals, and deaths of migratory and native bird populations due to collision or electrocution are all to be expected if this project ever gets constructed.
South Florida Wildlands Association is committed to a vigorous defense of the greater Everglades in the face of these new dangers. Well aware that the forces that would exploit our region for economic gain are powerful, we nevertheless expect both common sense and laws such as the National Park Service Organic Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and others to prevail. We will also participate in the larger dialogue on energy, joining others in encouraging use of truly sustainable energy production in order to protect the wellbeing of the Everglades, its plants, animals and inhabitants, as well as an economy which depends upon a healthy ecosystem.