Strict zoning classification threatens Everglades oil drilling

| Aug 27, 2015 | land use & zoning

Domestic oil production has really ramped up in the U.S. over the last decade, particularly in places like North Dakota and Montana, both of which are located on the massive Bakken formation.

It’s important to understand, however, that not all U.S. oil production is centered there or in places like Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana or Alaska. Indeed, here in Florida, we also have a significant foothold in the oil industry and not all of it is centered on offshore drilling.

Take for example the Sunniland Trend, a series of oil deposits tracing a path from Fort Myers to Miami, and along which a moderate number of oil wells have been in operation for quite some time.

Interestingly enough, this stretch of land has been in the news lately after a prominent Miami-based family, which owns 20,000 acres of land in the Everglades situated along the trend, sought to secure a permit to dig a more than two-mile-deep exploratory well.

The family’s plans have generated significant controversy, however, with many Everglades-based towns like Sunrise, Miramar, and Pembroke Pines drafting resolutions in opposition to the oil well, and state regulators conducting a painstaking review of the proposal.

As it turns out, documents recently released by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as part of an environmental review conducted in conjunction with the proposal reveal that the entire project may be brought to a grinding halt thanks to a zoning issue.

Specifically, an email from a senior assistant attorney with Broward County indicates that the land in question has been assigned a rather stringent conservation zoning classification that excludes exploratory oil drilling.

What this essentially means is that the family would have to request and receive a zoning amendment from the Broward County Commission, something that appears highly unlikely given the board’s well-documented opposition to drilling in the Everglades.

It remains to be seen whether this is essentially the end of the matter. Nevertheless, cases such as these help illustrate just how complex Florida’s zoning laws can prove to be and how the assistance of a skilled legal professional in these matters can prove to be invaluable.