No permits have been issued for oil and gas exploration or drilling in the Florida Everglades, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday in response to a senator's letter.
Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, wrote to DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard on Monday requesting that the department suspend approved oil exploration permits in the Everglades to allow the House and Senate to review the risks and effects.
The letter followed a report Saturday in the Orlando Sentinel saying that the search for oil on the western edge of the Everglades is raising hopes and fears of an emerging oil boom.
"In addition, please clarify whether any of these permits relate to fracking or other similar methods," Soto wrote. "These permits were issued without meaningful dialogue with your legislative partners and represent a major change in policy without our approval."
In response, Vinyard wrote that there are 162 oil and gas wells operating in six counties. But he said no exploration or drilling permits have been issued for The Everglades.
"While there are challenges to restoration efforts in The Everglades, oil and gas exploration is not one of them," Vinyard said.
A DEP spokeswoman said The Everglades for the purpose of the letter was being defined as the Everglades Protection Area, which covers nearly 2.5 million acres of publicly-owned land including 1.5 million acres of Everglades National Park.
Vinyard's letter didn't list the six counties where the wells are operating.
DEP's web site also shows that 13 applications were approved in 2013 for drilling in Hendry or Collier counties in Southwest Florida.
HB 71 and HB 157 were filed in response to reports about the oil industry's interest in oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing in southwest Florida, said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.
HB 71 requires companies to provide a list of chemicals used in fracking to an online registry. HB 157 provides an exemption from public records disclosure of industry "trade secrets" related to fracking. The bills, which lack Senate companion bills, face opposition from environmental groups.
On Tuesday, Mary Jean Yon, legislative director of Audubon Florida, told a Florida League of Women Voters telephone audience that she's hearing that the bills are dead for the session. But she said the bill language still could be included in other legislation.
In response, Rodrigues said, "I think it's awful early to call a bill dead when session hasn't even begun yet. Anything can happen in the next 60 days."
National groups last week said HB 71 and HB 157 were among legislation being proposed nationally by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. Rodrigues, who couldn't be reached for comment last week, said Tuesday the bills didn't come from ALEC.
He said the bills originated with Texas law changes that were proposed by environmental and energy industry representatives and passed with bipartisan support. Rodrigues said ALEC has since adopted the Texas law as model legislation nationally.
Reporter Bruce Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.