Press Release Nov 7, 2023

New Report Examines Repercussions, Damage from Oil and Gas Testing in Big Cypress National Preserve

Industrial machinery tore through this wild landscape, razing hundreds of cypress trees and leaving miles of destroyed habitat in their wake.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Today, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released a new report revealing the extensive, unprecedented damage that Burnett Oil Company’s oil and gas activities have caused inside Big Cypress National Preserve.

The National Park Service has not held Burnett accountable for causing such widespread damage to the preserve, which is a crucial part of the greater Everglades ecosystem.

Report

Speaking Up for the Swamp

Revealing Persistent Oil and Gas Impacts in Big Cypress National Preserve

See more ›

This new report, entitled “Speaking Up for the Swamp,” examines the persisting impacts of Burnett’s seismic testing activities conducted in 2017 and 2018 in search of oil in this national park site. The damage caused by Burnett’s heavy equipment has reverberated throughout a more than 100-mile stretch of the preserve. Laid end to end, the scars cut across this landscape would reach across the entire southern peninsula of Florida, from Naples to Miami.

The company’s exploratory activities caused many adverse impacts to the preserve: it created massive soil ruts — some as deep as two feet — altering natural vegetation, wetland soils, wildlife habitat, and hydrology in this incredibly important part of the River of Grass. This damage can still be seen in the Preserve today and is so alarmingly distinctive that it is easily identified both on the ground and from the air.

While Big Cypress National Preserve is a national park site, some of the oil and gas beneath the preserve is privately owned in what is commonly referred to as a “split estate.”

“Six years after Burnett’s disastrous hunt for oil, Big Cypress National Preserve still bears deep scars.” said Dr. Melissa Abdo, primary author of the report and Sun Coast Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Their industrial machinery tore through this wild landscape, razing hundreds of cypress trees and leaving miles of destroyed habitat in their wake. Despite the passage of time, this national park site has not shown real signs of recovery from the damages caused by past oil and gas exploration.”

The report, based on years of field surveys conducted by Quest Ecology Inc., finds that the most basic features of Big Cypress National Preserve’s famous wetlands have not returned to normal. There has been almost zero natural regrowth of the ancient dwarf cypress trees felled by Burnett’s trucks, and unnatural trenches left by the equipment still crisscross the landscape.

Burnett’s equipment also plowed through state-listed endangered air plants, including the rare cardinal air-plant, a fact that has gone unacknowledged in oil company reports. Biodiversity in the area has declined significantly, and water levels in the wetlands have been dramatically altered, changing the nature of the ecosystem altogether.

More than 40 percent of the fresh water that flows south to Everglades National Park and surrounding estuaries comes from Big Cypress National Preserve. Many vulnerable and endangered flora and fauna make their home in Big Cypress, including Florida panthers, Florida bonneted bats, Big Cypress fox squirrels, and ghost orchids. Organizations and advocates concerned about the preserve’s wildlife and water resources have documented years-long efforts to protect the preserve at www.savebigcypress.org.

Dr. Abdo continued, “The results of this report should serve as both a cautionary tale about the impacts of dangerous oil and gas hunts in the preserve and a rallying cry to stop them for good. Big Cypress deserved better six years ago, and it deserves better now. The National Park Service and responsible agencies must hold Burnett accountable for the damage their oil hunt inflicted on Big Cypress National Preserve. At a bare minimum, the beautiful cypress trees for which this national preserve was named must be replanted.

“As we work together to heal Big Cypress National Preserve, we must stand united in ensuring that damaging industrial oil ventures are never again permitted here.”

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About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.

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