Environment

Florida judge clears way for Big Cypress oil exploration

A federal judge on Monday cleared the way for a Texas company to expand oil exploration in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
A federal judge on Monday cleared the way for a Texas company to expand oil exploration in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Miami Herald Staff

A federal judge cleared the way for a Texas company to expand oil exploration in the Big Cypress National Preserve Monday when he rejected environmentalists claim that the park service failed to assess damage to fragile habitat.

In a 99-page ruling, U.S. Judge John Steele said the National Park Service adequately addressed concerns following two years worth of revisions, that included public comment.

Steele also pointed out that under environmental rules, “even a capricious substantive decision will not violate [the act] because [it] ‘merely prohibits uninformed — rather than unwise — agency action.’”

A half dozen environmental groups that fought the expanded drilling using massive thumper trucks are still reviewing the decision, said South Florida Wildlands Association executive director Matthew Schwartz.

Clearly we’re not happy with the decision.

South Florida Wildlands Association executive director Matthew Schwartz

“Clearly we’re not happy with the decision,” he said.

Drilling in the area dates back to the 1940s. When the preserve was founded in the 1970s, the Collier family, which owned much of the land, held on to mineral rights. Only two drilling sights remain today, both operated by Exxon.

Because the park service will allow the 33-ton trucks, which produce sound waves underground, to operate only during the dry season, when they’re less likely to cause damage, Schwartz said the trucks could begin work any day. Since March, surveyors have been mapping a grid across the 110-square mile area.

“We’re already seeing damage,” he said. “They’re cutting down trees and creating ruts. You can see the impacts on the soil and those do not go away. There will be lasting impacts on such a large portion of the preserve.”

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