MIAMI, Fla.– Conservation groups sent a letter to state and federal agencies Feb. 3 opposing Burnett Oil Company’s request to the state of Florida for permits to develop oil infrastructure to facilitate new oil drilling in the Everglades, inside Big Cypress National Preserve. The permits would allow the company to construct oil wells and access roads in wetlands and Florida panther habitat.
In its final days, the Trump administration approved the state of Florida’s request to assume the federal government’s Section 404 permitting authority under the Clean Water Act.
While Big Cypress National Preserve is a unit of the national park system, some of the oil and gas beneath the preserve is privately owned. Burnett Oil Company — which according to the application package, leases the right to explore for and extract oil from Collier Resources Company — is planning further harmful oil and gas activities inside Big Cypress. The company’s seismic testing operations in 2017 and 2018 severely damaged wetlands and cypress trees in the delicate ecosystem, a crucial habitat for the endangered Florida panther, Florida bonneted bat and other imperiled species.
Burnett Oil’s hunt for oil created soil ruts — some as deep as two feet — altering natural vegetation, wetland soils and hydrology in this incredibly important part of the River of Grass. This damage can still be seen in the preserve.
National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and the Center for Biological Diversity have opposed Burnett Oil Company’s oil and gas activities in the preserve since they began exploration in 2017 due to the severe impacts and lasting damages caused by operating heavy machinery in the ecosystem. Big Cypress National Preserve is critical to sending fresh water south to Everglades National Park and surrounding communities and contains many vulnerable and endangered flora and fauna.
Dr. Melissa Abdo, Sun Coast Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association said, “Taxpayers in Florida and around the country have pumped billions of dollars toward restoring the Everglades ecosystem, of which the wetlands of Big Cypress National Preserve are a vital part. The preserve has not even begun to heal from the severe impacts of Burnett’s last hunt for oil.
“Our national park sites are carbon sinks, uniquely positioned as one of the first lines of defense against climate change. They should be part of the climate solution, rather than being used to contribute to climate change.
“We vehemently oppose this new effort to create more destructive oil development in our first national preserve.” Abdo said.
“After witnessing the damage Burnett Oil inflicted with seismic testing, we’ll oppose any efforts to drill in this fragile landscape,” said Alison Kelly, senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Sunshine State should instead focus on climate impacts in Florida, such as sea-level rise, and how to harness its solar energy potential.”
“We refuse to watch this dying industry trash one of Florida’s most important havens for endangered wildlife,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This selfish, shortsighted request to ignore the harm in order to squeeze a few more drops of oil out of a national preserve must be denied.”
Betty Osceola of the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida is planning a "Hands Across the Alley" protest for April 10. The focus of the proest will be to ask the state to deny Burnett Oil permit requests for more oil pads in the Big Cypress Preserve. For updates on the event, see her page on Facebook.