Fossil fuel development looms at Florida preserve

fla oil map
Conservation advocates are concerned about a proposal to explore for oil and gas in Big Cypress National Preserve.

Risky business in one of the country’s most biodiverse regions

Staff Report

FRISCO — No place is safe from the never-ending quest to feed modern society’s addiction to fossil fuels. One of the latest targets is Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve, where Burnett Oil, of Ft. Worth, Texas, is seeking a permit to do seismic testing across approximately 110 square miles.

The National Park Service is taking comments on the proposal  at this website through Aug. 16, and conservation advocates are rallying supporters to try and block or limit the proposal.
Acknowledging that the enabling legislation for the preserve allows for fossil fuel exploitation, the nonprofit nonetheless says it’s a bad idea in one of the most biodiverse pieces of public land in our nation.

If the project is approved, Burnett plans to lay a grid of source and receiver lines across the center of the preserve. Massive “vibroseis” trucks weighing tens of thousands of pounds each will drive along the source lines, stopping frequently to drop a heavy plate onto the ground to send seismic waves deep into the earth.

The thumper trucks will be preceded by crews driving lighter off-road vehicles to clear vegetation and check for obstacles (or the presence of endangered and threatened wildlife). Low flying helicopters will be dropping off and picking up “geophones” throughout the survey area along the receiver lines.

When the survey is completed, the thumper trucks will have produced approximately 33,000 energy source points that will have been picked up by over 37,000 receiver points in an attempt to obtain a detailed three-dimensional picture of the deep geology of the preserve.

If oil is located in what the company believes to be commercially viable quantities, it will bring in new roads, oil pads, drill rigs, pipes, water wells, diesel generators, drilling chemicals (possibly including fracking fluids) to conduct exploratory oil drilling and, ultimately, production — all  in the middle of the most important habitat in Florida for the endangered Florida panther and hundreds of native Florida plants and animals which share the fragile habitat.

Here’s a video of a vibroseis truck in action.  Watch this machine operating in a desert and try to imagine it driving through the dense vegetation and wetland soils of the Big Cypress National Preserve:
According to conservation advocates, the proposal would affect sensitive wetlands, where thin soil is easily rutted, then invaded by non-native plants. The area to be explored provides habitat for many federally protected species, including the Eastern indigo snake, wood stork, and Audubon’s crested caracara (Threatened); Everglades snail kite, Red-cockaded woodpecker, Florida panther (73 collared Florida panthers have been known to use the survey area), and Florida bonneted bat (Endangered); and the gopher tortoise (Candidate species).

“We believe Burnett’s analysis of likely and potential impacts — limited in their application to avoidance — is woefully inadequate to the size and scale of their operations and the vast variety of wildlife utilizing this habitat,” the South Florida Wildlands Alliance wrote in an action alert to members.

The risk of non-native species taking hold in the preserve is a fundamental threat to the ecosystem that shouldn’t be allowed, the organization said.

 

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