For Immediate Release, March 6, 2020

Contact:

Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org
Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (646) 823-4518, ahawke@nrdc.org
Amber Crooks, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, (239) 262-0304 x 286, amberc@conservancy.org
Melissa Abdo, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 893-3391, mabdo@npca.org

Seismic Oil Activities in Big Cypress Had Adverse, Degrading Effect, Army Corps Finds

Corps Requires Future Compliance With Clean Water Act

NAPLES, Fla.— The Burnett Oil Company has done extensive damage to “high quality wet prairie and dwarf cypress” forests in the Big Cypress National Preserve during its seismic testing for oil and gas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said today, in a letter in which it notified the company that future activities would be regulated under the Clean Water Act:

“It’s a shame so much damage has already been done to this remarkable national treasure,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Corps’ findings underscore why seismic activities shouldn’t be allowed in the preserve at all. The immediate threat to Florida’s captivating biodiversity is too great.”

“Big Cypress will never be the same because Burnett has already done extensive damage to this sensitive ecosystem in its hunt for oil,” said Alison Kelly, senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council. “The company should abandon its quest for climate-harming fossil fuels in America’s first national preserve instead of sacrificing the habitat of the critically endangered Florida panther.”

“Burnett’s seismic exploration of the Big Cypress was far more disruptive and destructive than we ever imagined. We were shocked to witness the survey in operation and even more disappointed to see impacts that may never be restored remaining on the landscape of one of our crown jewel public lands,” said Amber Crooks, environmental policy manager at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

“Taxpayers and our nation have invested over one billion dollars in restoring America’s Everglades. The impacts of Burnett’s oil and gas exploration occurring inside the boundaries of Big Cypress are creating massive rutted cuts across the landscape, altering the natural vegetation, and significantly, altering the water distribution across the landscape,” said Dr. Melissa Abdo, Sun Coast regional Director for National Parks Conservation Association. “We cannot allow irresponsible new oil and gas exploration inside Big Cypress, a critical part of the Greater Everglades ecosystem, to impede our investment and efforts to restore America’s Everglades.”

The preserve is a massive freshwater wetland swamp ecosystem that feeds fresh water to Everglades National Park. It also provides the largest remaining contiguous acreage of habitat for the gravely endangered Florida panther. Since 2017, Burnett Oil has driven 33-ton “vibroseis” trucks and other vehicles off-road within a 110 square mile area of dwarf cypress strand wetland communities and high-quality wet prairie.

Conservation organizations the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, National Parks Conservation Association, and others sued the Park Service in 2016 to prevent the company from destroying the preserve through seismic exploration activities to prospect for oil and gas, but a federal judge upheld a permit issued by the National Park Service.

The Corps had previously determined that a Clean Water Act permit was not required in 2017. But having investigated the damage caused by the seismic activities, the agency has now determined that future activities would be regulated under the Clean Water Act.

In January the Center, NRDC, and other conservation organizations urged Governor Ron DeSantis to protect Big Cypress from new fossil fuel exploration and development. DeSantis has not yet responded.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at NRDC.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a non-profit regional environmental organization dedicated to the protection of Southwest Florida's land, water, wildlife and future through advocacy, science, education, and wildlife rehabilitation.

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 1.4 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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