By Sarah Cruz
Porous limestone, pumping aquifers, crystal clear springs, estuaries, birds, turtles, fish, manatees, panthers, birds, BIRDS. A slow moving river of grass. Drinking water, life. I really cannot articulate the magic, beauty, and life force that is Florida. Whether or not you’ve experienced the Everglades or other Florida wild lands, (it’s cool if you’re just the indoorsy type) you can definitely understand drinking water as vital to all forms of life, human and non-human.
The world over, land, water, life are being murdered by capitalists’ desperate need to expand markets. In North America extraction, especially fracking, is exploding. Pipelines are snaking their way from coast to coast. In Florida, we know the Gulf of Mexico is littered with oil platforms, loaded with oil and Corexit, but never imagined that drilling could hit land. We live on porous limestone, just feet above our water table and an amazing aquifer system (already facing several threats) that provides majority of the state’s drinking water. Surprise.
Extraction, Injection Wells & Pipelines for FL
In Florida “in the past five years, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has received 39 drilling applications and granted 37 of them. Sixteen of these have been applied for in the past year – 14 of which are in Collier and Hendry counties…” (Newsweek) (1). Much of Collier County is in the Big Cypress National Preserve, borders the Gulf of Mexico, and is home to incredible estuaries, rookeries, and panther habitat. Hendry County borders Collier to the Northwest and is also part of the Everglades system, which should naturally flow from Lake Okeechobee (another mess).
Oil drilling has existed in the Everglades and in North Florida on a relatively small scale since the ‘40’s, but changes in technology, like horizontal drilling and acid fracking, coupled with the mad drive for new markets, are encouraging the industry to drill just about everywhere, especially in Florida’s Sunniland Trend, which stretches from Ft. Meyers (west coast) to Miami (east coast) (2).
Then, there are injection wells – drilled into the ground to store brine, a toxic mix of salinated water and chemicals – the byproduct of oil drilling and fracking. We already have some injection wells in Florida. “In South Florida, 20 of the nation’s most stringently regulated disposal wells failed in the early 1990s, releasing partly treated sewage into aquifers… ” (3). Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington said, “In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” (3).
On March 11th, some members of One Struggle, including myself, attended an EPA hearing for a permit for exploratory drilling and an injection well in Golden Gate Estates, a community just Northeast of Naples, Florida in Collier County. Dan A. Hughes, a Texas based oil company requested the permit. Actually, the EPA already approved the permit. They just failed to convene an advisory committee that is supposed to assess dangers to the Big Cypress Watershed, and then make recommendations to the EPA about permits within the region. Because of legal efforts made by South Florida Wildlands Association, along with other organizations, the committee convened, after the fact.
The hearing was packed with around 300 people from across the state. I stood in the back, angry, as we listened to the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee drone on with bureaucratic proceedings and misinformation. A comrade asked, “Should we disrupt this? This is maddening!” A man standing next to me vented loudly, “This is a ring and circus!” A Golden Gate resident demanded, “How could this committee, charged with making a recommendation to the EPA about this permit, know so little about the issue?” Soon the room swelled with anger. Shouts from the crowd quickly overcame the orderly proceedings. Claims made by state and oil industry officials of minimal impacts to water and endangered panthers were met with cries of “bullshit!” Every attempt to quiet or pacify the crowd was met with combativeness. It was awesome.
Eventually, the committee decided they couldn’t make a decision that day. They scheduled another meeting for March 31st, where more people demanded they reject the permit. Eventually they did. But this is not quite a victory. The Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee is only providing a recommendation to the EPA. The EPA has yet to respond to this recommendation, and a judge in Tallahassee will ultimately make the decision to revoke the permit that was already granted, or to let Dan A. Hughes Company continue on. So, that judge can take the advice to reject the permit, or leave it.
[Dona Knapp Speaking at Big Cypress Committee Meeting, March 31st 2014.]
Meanwhile, Spectra Energy and Florida Power & Light (a subsidiary of NextEra) have natural gas pipeline projects in the works for Florida. The Southeast Market Pipeline would link lines from the Marcellus Shale region down to Alabama, Georgia, and Florida (4). At the same time, FPL is also pushing for a 3,750-megawatt gas-fired power plant in Hendry County (5).
The fight for the Everglades, the fight against capital’s devastation of life, has always been a fierce one. The intensity will only amplify.
We are facing a catastrophic situation, but this moment also presents an opportunity to organize. Environmental crisis makes so clear the destructive and insane nature of capitalism. It’s a literal dead end, as capitalists invest in our very destruction (6).
The struggle to defend our land and water must be directly tied to the death of this system.
We need a movement to do this, a broad one, filled with all kinds of people, all participating for varying reasons, but unified against one common enemy – capital.
Retirees, landowners, suburban housewives, fisher people, NGO’s, indigenous leaders, students, radicals, progressives – most everyone at the March 11th hearing was ready to fight for land and water. This was really encouraging, but if our goal is a classless and sustainable society, we must go further. We must connect the dots between ecocide and capitalism, so that our efforts are not co-opted and recycled back into the system.
We cannot afford to be derailed by voting, fighting for property rights, symbolic actions, allowing NGO’s to lead our fight, or false divisions. Reformist struggles can play a positive role, but only when we engage in them strategically, with the larger objective of building a combative mass movement.
I’m grateful to folks who work within the legal system to slow the rate of destruction, but a mass of organized people in the streets can impose their demands… rather than jumping through bureaucratic hoops to ask nicely.
I admire the bravery of folks who shut down extraction sites… but what about the people who work those jobs? They are not our enemies. They are dominated by capitalism as well, compelled to work a job that destroys their children’s land, water, air.
This is why we need a broad movement, which goes beyond single issues, and that makes the connection that all of us, dominated and exploited by capitalism, must unite.
One Struggle is organized around this concept – uniting all who can be at this moment; growing organized relationships and networks of people who agree that capitalism must die; and determining how we can fight together. This is why we attended this hearing. Here is the leaflet we handed out (7).
We will all never agree about the exact details of what a new society should look like, nor how to get there (nor should we), but if we can unite against the cause of our destruction, we can be powerful in our work to defeat this system, to defend land, air, and water for human and non-human life. We must. It is so urgent.