ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Conservation groups urged Gov. Ron DeSantis today to protect Big Cypress National Preserve from new fossil fuel exploration and development. This comes in the wake of news that Florida will purchase 20,0000 acres of wetlands previously slated for oil exploration in Everglades Water Conservation Areas.
In today’s letter, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, 1,000 Friends of Florida and Sierra Club asked the governor to assess the potential for permanently protecting the preserve from further oil- exploration activities by either purchasing or trading the privately-owned mineral rights beneath it.
The groups also asked that Gov. DeSantis require the Burnett Oil Company to fully repair damage to the preserve caused by its oil-exploration activities in recent years.
“Destructive oil prospecting in Big Cypress puts Everglades restoration efforts at risk,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We can’t afford to jeopardize this multi-decade, multi-billion-dollar investment in this globally-significant gem for a few more barrels of oil the world doesn’t need.”
“Big Cypress is a national treasure renowned for its namesake ancient trees, wetlands, recreation opportunities, wetlands, cultural significance and habitat for the Florida panther,” said Alison Kelly, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Our public lands should be part of the climate solution – not destroyed to extract climate-damaging fossil fuels.”
The Big Cypress ecosystem depends on water and spans 720,567 acres. It is the western extension of the Everglades hydrologic system. The Big Cypress basin provides more than 40 percent of the water flowing into Everglades National Park.
While oil development has historically taken place in discrete portions of the preserve, the Texas-based Burnett Oil Company has been authorized to conduct seismic testing for oil across an additional 110 square miles. The 33-ton “vibroseis” trucks that have been used in those explorations have caused significant damage in sensitive, roadless wetland areas, including dwarf cypress forests, high-diversity marl prairie wetlands and habitat for protected species like the endangered Florida panther.
Three additional phases of seismic testing are planned, which would ultimately encompass 366 square miles, or one-third, of the preserve.