Environment

Environmentalists say oil exploration will damage Big Cypress

Oil drilling operations, like this one at Raccoon Point, have been going on for decades in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Environmentalists are fighting a proposed expansion.
Oil drilling operations, like this one at Raccoon Point, have been going on for decades in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Environmentalists are fighting a proposed expansion. Miami Herald Staff

Plans by a Texas company to deploy massive thumper trucks to seismically explore for oil in the Big Cypress National Preserve are being challenged by more than a half dozen environmental groups.

In an 88-page report, the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, Conservancy of Southwest Florida and other groups say testing in a 110-square mile section of the preserve will disturb vast new swaths of land. When the park service tentatively signed off on plans in November, the groups say that it failed to consider climate change or new technology, and too hastily made a decision based on old information from decades of drilling in the swamp.

This seismic testing and oil drilling will do irrevocable damage.

John Adornato, National Parks Conservation Association regional director

“A more thorough environmental review will reveal what we already know. This seismic testing and oil drilling will do irrevocable damage to one of Florida’s most iconic landscapes and should not be allowed to move forward,” John Adornato, a regional director for the conservation association, said in a statement.

In reviewing the request from Burnett Oil, the park service looked at the potential damage from driving the 33-ton trucks through the swamp. While some wildlife could suffer from short-term stress, park officials said damage would likely be minimal if workers complied with a lengthy list of requirements. Some wildlife could even benefit from new data collected in the process of looking for pockets of oil, the assessment found.

But the environmental groups say Burnett’s plans for five new staging areas require a more thorough review. Four of those areas would occur on pristine wetlands and could damage more than a thousand miles of untouched land, the groups say.

Approving the test without a full review could also set a precedent for expanding oil exploration, the groups say, and could lead to less land being more fully protected with a wilderness designation.

Drilling in the preserve, a refuge for panthers and other rare wildlife, dates back to the 1940s. When the preserve was created in 1974, the Collier Family, which owned much of the land, held on to mineral rights and over the years sold off drilling rights. Today, Exxon operates two drilling facilities including the Bear Island field, which was discovered in 1972 and includes 23 wells on nine pads and 17 wells in the Raccoon Point field, which was discovered in 1978.

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