Press Release May 6, 2016

Park Service Paves Way for Oil, Gas Drilling in Big Cypress National Preserve

Plans Would Disrupt 70,000 Acres of Fragile Wetlands, Forest

WASHINGTON – Below is a statement by Nicholas Lund, Senior Manager of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Landscape Conservation Program, following the National Park Service’s (NPS) announcement today finding that Burnett Oil Company’s plan to explore 70,000 acres of Big Cypress National Preserve for oil and gas deposits would have no significant environmental impact:

“The National Park Service’s decision today to allow Burnett Oil Company to test for oil and gas on 70,000 acres inside Big Cypress National Preserve is an abdication of the agency’s responsibility to protect the lands, flora and fauna under its jurisdiction. The Park Service has failed in its legal responsibility to protect the preserve from the irrevocable damage these activities will inflict.

“Preserve staff conducted the minimum amount of environmental review necessary to approve a plan that would create up to 1,000 miles of new rutted trails through the habitat of nine federally endangered species in a previously roadless area, with other lasting impacts to soils and water quality.

“The Park Service gave only the sparsest consideration to potential alternatives which could have drastically reduced the physical impacts to the preserve. When the four stages of Burnett Oil Company’s testing plan are complete they will have driven 30-ton trucks over more than 360 square miles of the preserve. The Park Service must reverse its decision and give this proposal the scrutiny it demands.”

Background Burnett Oil Company’s proposed seismic testing for oil and gas on privately-held mineral rights beneath Big Cypress, the first step toward oil drilling, would result in off-road trucks weighing more than 30 tons driving through 110 square miles of Big Cypress. Big Cypress covers 720,567 acres of wetland ecosystem in southwestern Florida, including much of the western Everglades, and is home to a wide array of endangered species, including the Florida panther, the wood stork, the red-cockaded woodpecker, Florida bonneted bat, and the American alligator.

When the land that became Big Cypress National Preserve was transferred to the federal government in 1974, many of the underground acres remained privately held. The private owners retain the right to extract minerals from their lands. There are currently 20 active wells in Big Cypress.

The proposal being considered by the NPS is the first of a four-part exploration that involves using 33-ton “thumper” trucks equipped with seismic vibrators over 360 square miles of Big Cypress. Environmental impacts of the seismic testing would be immense, affecting wildlife, defoliating and flattening vegetation, altering hydrology, compacting and rutting sensitive soils, and more.

In January, NPCA and a coalition of groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Earthworks, South Florida Wildlands Association, and Clean Water Action – asked NPS to reject Burnett’s plan. The groups argue that the environmental review of Burnett’s plan, performed by the NPS, was insufficient in several respects, including a failure to consider less-damaging alternatives and a lack of consideration to the impacts on wildlife, plants, park visitation, recreational use, hydrology, and other environmental impacts. The groups were joined in their concerns by more than 30 professors and biologists in Florida and the southeast expressing their concerns for the impacts of this project on Florida panthers and other wildlife.


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