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EPA should protect the endangered Florida panther, not oil and gas profits

Amy Mall

Posted March 12, 2014

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Earlier this week, NRDC sent a letter to U.S. EPA asking the agency to deny a permit application for an oil and gas waste disposal well proposed in prime habitat for the endangered Florida panther in south Florida.


Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

NRDC is very concerned that this wastewater disposal well would be located in prime habitat for the Florida panther--a very endangered species. The panther is so endangered, with perhaps only 100 individual panthers still in existence, that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has stated that “every individual is important for the panther’s survival.” Yet the oil and gas industry wants to turn this prime habitat into a dirty and dangerous oilfield. This proposed waste disposal site would threaten Florida panthers by: dramatically increasing vehicle traffic in the area with hundreds of truck trips, creating noise and light impacts that can disrupt panther habits, and leading to more human activity and other impacts. The map below illustrates locations of panthers documented by telemetry, sites where panthers have been killed by vehicles, the proposed wastewater disposal well site, and roads that trucks would travel that are right in the midst of panther habitat.


Thumbnail image for panthermap_largescale-2.jpg

Map created by Matthew McKinzie

The waste that will be injected may be very toxic – but no one will know how dangerous it is because there are no requirements that the contents be disclosed. Oil and gas wastes have been shown to contain toxic substances which endanger both human health and the environment, but Congress exempted them from federal hazardous waste law back in the 1980s. Because of this loophole, oil and gas waste disposal wells aren’t built to standards needed to protect underground sources of drinking water from hazardous waste--regardless of how toxic the waste may be.

Compliance with the rules for these types of disposal wells is very poor. An investigation by the news outlet ProPublica found more than 1000 serious violations nationwide, and concluded that “fundamental safeguards are sometimes being ignored or circumvented." ProPublica also reported that the EPA staff that is charged with enforcing the law in Florida employs very few people to inspect these wells.

The Florida Panther was designated Florida's State Animal in 1982, and a national wildlife refuge was established for the panther in 1989. But panthers don't read maps and also venture outside the refuge on a regular basis. It's a critical time for the survival of the species, but nevertheless the oil and gas industry is eager to push ahead and put profits ahead of panthers.

The Endangered Species Act requires EPA to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that permit approval will not jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species. EPA needs to take the full scope of potential impacts on the panther population into consideration and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as required by law.

In addition, there are important sources of drinking water near the site, but the EPA hasn’t fully assessed the risks posed to drinking water by the proposed injection well.

For all these reasons, NRDC opposes this injection well and urges EPA to deny the permit.

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Michael BerndtsonMar 12 2014 11:18 AM

Where is the location of the proposed injection well? The text and map don't give a location with respect to the State of Florida. I'm all for saving panthers from extinction, but there might be a million other reasons that an injection well, in a subsurface marred with goofy geology, is a bad idea. Especially in a state that is gradually running out of surface water, groundwater and land on the one hand - yet an endless supply of content for Cops episodes, on the other.

Jan BoudartMar 12 2014 11:36 PM

Fracking is a blight. These people who get the jobs -- what will they do when the jobs disappear? Also, who is going to come to the panther refuge when it is all polluted? The good, permanent, year-round jobs that go with proximity to the refuge will be lost. When the frackers leave, you'll have a ghost town. Won't that be romantic? Just like wild west in the movies.

Amy MallMar 13 2014 09:37 AM

Hi Michael: Thanks for the comment. FracTracker has a good map here:

Michael BerndtsonMar 13 2014 10:54 AM

Thanks Amy.
I'm really trying to stay on topic with my comments, but my first flash point type reaction after hearing about an injection well in Florida was, "they want to do WHAT!?"

Apparently, according to the permit linked to the fracktrack article is fracking blowback water is the new saltwater.

Based on the fractracker article (good write up, btw) the injection well is being permitted for disposal of liquid waste from the planned fracking development - east of Naples. The fracking wells are designed for depth of about 16,000 feet. The disposal well at 2,800 feet. While the seismic issues may be minimal (earth shaking wise), the subsurface geology should give anyone, not wanting the overlying limestone aquifer to be impacted, pause.

Matthew SchwartzMar 13 2014 04:59 PM

Good conversation happening here. Michael - my understanding as a local activist is that the proposed oil well at this location does not involve fracking at this time. But it does involve a horizontal well bore a mile long and 2 miles below the surface. It could be fracked in the future if petroleum geologists and engineers determine that would be the best way to get out oil that is "stuck." But on putting Class II waste water injection wells in Florida's porous limestone geology (basically fossilized corals and other marine life) - you're absolutely right. It's nuts. There's no such thing as "impervious limestone."

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