Last week, we filed suit against the National Park Service for allowing oil and gas exploration activities in Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve. Located adjacent to the Everglades, the Preserve is a national treasure, home to an array of endangered species and a special place enjoyed by many for its recreational, educational, and aesthetic value.
Earthworks and our partners believe that the Park Service must fulfill its charge to protect public lands by considering the full impacts of mineral extraction, especially those places Congress has set aside for preservation.
Joining us in this case are the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and South Florida Wildlands Association.
Drilling In a Preserve
Protected since 1974, Big Cypress National Preserve is a 700,000-acre water-dependent ecosystem in southwestern Florida. It is the western extension of the Everglades hydrologic system, providing over 40% of the water flowing into Everglades National Park. Big Cypress is also home to many threatened and endangered species including the Florida black bear, Florida bonneted bat, Florida panther, Eastern indigo snake, wood stork, red-cockaded woodpecker, many species of wading birds, and rare plants like the ghost orchid.
While the surface lands of the Preserve are part of the National Park System, the mineral estate mainly belongs in private hands. More common in the West, these split estates can create conflicts where a family’s home sits above the oil and gas owned by someone else.
In Big Cypress, the public owns the surface. Yet the mineral owners, working through the Burnett Oil Company, Inc. (Burnett) of Texas, have conducted oil and gas activities on a limited scale in a few locations in the Preserve.
Don’t Thump the Florida Panther (or any other animals or plants)
Now, Burnett proposes to perform seismic exploration using 61,000-pound vibroseis “thumper” trucks in a mostly roadless area of the Preserve. The exploration project would occur in four phases over four years and eventually comprise 366 square miles. Notably, some of the project area includes land currently under consideration for Wilderness designation.
Incredibly, the Park Service found this activity would not create a significant environmental impact (FONSI). Thumper trucks: vehicles whose very purpose is to create an impact so significant that instruments can examine the geology miles below the surface. How does that feel to the Eastern indigo snake? Or to nearby campers? Heavy trucks don't float on the surface; they can trample everything in their path.
Holding the Park Service Accountable
The Park Service's decision sets a dangerous precedent for public, protected lands everywhere. Drilling activities in a National Preserve requires a full environmental review, not a piecemeal assessment that relies on endangered species simply avoiding seismic zones. That’s why we’re going to court. Either Big Cypress is preserved for all our enjoyment or it is not. Drilling is simply incompatible with saving our most iconic places.