The National Park Service has decided to allow a Texas company to explore for oil and gas in the Big Cypress National Preserve, one of SW Florida’s most treasured outdoor areas...
Late last week, officials from the Park Service said that after a 20-month environmental review they concluded there would be no significant impact to allowing Burnett Oil Company to conduct a 110 square mile survey in the locally popular national preserve.
To complete the survey, Burnett says it will use sound waves from “sonic vibrators” mounted on trucks to create a three-dimensional map of potential oil and gas reserves.
The Park Service received a lot of feedback opposing the plan from those who feel it opens up the sensitive biosphere to ultimate drilling. In response, the Service said permission to conduct a survey is not tantamount to exploiting resources that might be found. They further said that even If Burnett Oil does “find energy resources it desires to pursue”, the company would then be required to submit a new plan of operations, requiring another environmental review.
Critics maintain that it is insincere to allow exploration if there is never any intent to drill in the Preserve and that because the land is home to flora and fauna unique to South Florida, it should never be exploited for resources. There are also those who point out that the Preserve is a natural watershed acting as a groundwater purifier and filter for southwest Florida’s aquifers and considering the current level of water woes facing SW Florida maintaining the land for recreational and public water sourcing would be the best management practice.
The Preserve has come under fire before for allowing recreational usages that damage the lands’ capacity to regenerate. In 1999, the Park Service noted that increased off road vehicle usage (ORV) was having a negative impact on the preserve. That prompted the National Park Service in 2001 to “proactively manage ORV recreation and to reduce 400 miles (640 km) of primary trails within the preserve, despite persistent calls for more from hunters and ORV enthusiasts.
“ORV use in Big Cypress National Preserve (BICY) has impacted wildlife populations and habitats through modifications to water flow patterns (direction and velocity) and water quality, soil displacement and compaction, direct vegetation damage, disturbance to foraging individuals, and, ultimately, overall suitability of habitats for wildlife," concluded officials with the Park Service based on a 2001 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey,
Based on these conclusions, environmental groups opposed the announcement by park officials in 2006 that it would conduct a new study to determine whether the recreational benefit of increasing the number of trails would be worth the risk of additional damage to the ecosystem.
According to Wikipedia and the Park Service website, “the preserve is considered the most biologically diverse region of the terrestrial Everglade. While dominated by a wet cypress forest, it is host to an array of flora and fauna, including mangroves, orchids, alligators, venomous snakes like the cottonmouth and eastern diamondback rattlesnake, a variety of birds, and the critically endangered Florida panther, along with the more common Florida black bear. The preserve is also home to nine federally listed endangered species including the West Indian manatee, the eastern indigo snake and the Florida Sandhill Crane
The preserve located in South Florida and is a popular destination for both Lee and Collier county tourists and locals. It is ideally situated for a leisurely day trip from either Fort Myers or Naples.