I’m not sure how many people realize that there is a history of oil production in Southwest Florida. Though I grew up in Florida and have been studying energy issues for many years, I first heard of the Sunniland Trend this morning.
Apparently, there is a “massive, onshore oil reserve” that stretches from Ft. Myers on the west coast all the way to Miami on the east coast. The deposit was discovered by Humble Oil (one of the predecessor companies of the company now known as ExxonMobil) in 1943. Before running “dry” using the technology available at the time, the deposit produced about 100 million barrels of oil.
Now it appears that there is growing interest in using more modern techniques that include 3-D seismic analysis to locate the productive pockets and horizontal drilling to increase the size of the reservoir that can be tapped from a single drill site. The motivation to use these techniques comes from the continued existence of oil prices in the $90-$120 per barrel range; roughly 5-10 times the prices that existed when production fell off in the mid-1980s
The geology of my home state makes it unlikely that the widely discussed technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) will be included on the menu of ways to increase oil production. After all, that technique is generally applied to tight, shale rock formations while the layers of sediment that lie deep under Florida are already porous enough to allow reasonably free flow of whatever oil might be there.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons that south Florida has never been a very productive oil and gas region. Porous layers of sedimentary rock are beneficial to oil and gas producers as a place where the material can be stored to wait for their drill bits, but the formation of productive hydrocarbon reservoirs that can be tapped to provide large quantities of fuel requires boundaries of dense, sealing layers of rock. Otherwise, trapped organic material that decays over millions of years to form hydrocarbons will just seep out and dissipate.
Not surprisingly, the notion of drilling and extracting oil is not universally welcomed in a state that was severely harmed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Proponents of the activity, however, claim that such an event cannot happen in the areas they want to drill; the oil deep underground is under such low pressure that it has to be pumped to the surface. If that is true, there is no danger of anything remotely similar to the blowout and continued gushing that occurred in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Of course, there is always the possibility of a loss of control of drilling chemicals and drilling waste materials that are an inevitable part of sinking deep holes into the ground and pulling potentially hazardous materials up through the same layers that contain drinking water.
Perhaps one of the reasons there is a substantial protest movement growing is that the resource companies that owned the wells that ran dry sold off the surface area for housing developments, a more conventional Floridian money making scheme. The residents of those developments are not particularly happy about living within a few hundred feet of oil wells, especially since the resource company apparently maintained the mineral rights under their homes.
NIMBY (not in my backyard) protests get very loud when there are not even any royalty payments to make up for the potential property damage and lifestyle changes that happen with resource extraction operations.
Some of the residents probably never considered the possibility of nearby oil well development since they live just outside the boundary of Big Cypress National Preserve. Many people think of national preserves as places protected from such intrusions. However, Big Cypress was formed from land donated by the Collier family under the condition that it would be available for “reasonable use and enjoyment of privately owned oil and gas interests”.
As far as I can tell; there is no possibility of the onshore areas of Southwest Florida ever producing marketable natural gas. There is little doubt that the organic-rich sediments have produced a lot of methane over the years, but none of it has been trapped in productive reservoirs.