Save Big Cypress National Preserve
Save Big Cypress National Preserve
We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about Burnett Oil Company’s proposal to conduct seismic testing over 70,454 acres in the Big Cypress National Preserve. This is a large project encompassing some of the most environmentally sensitive lands in the nation.
The type of geophysical exploration proposed by Burnett will involve the use of vibroseis buggies (weighing up to 30 tons) that vibrate large plates against the ground to generate a seismic signal, which is then measured to model local geology. Impacts from this activity can include removal of trees and other vegetation, building of access roads, surface and sheet flow disturbance from vehicles, cut lines that can extend up to fifty feet in width, clearing for equipment staging areas, and noise from vehicles, helicopters, and generators.
The Big Cypress National Preserve is public land set aside to provide critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, to safeguard vital watersheds, and to provide recreation. We are deeply concerned about the permanent and cumulative impacts this large-scale seismic survey will have on wildlife, wetlands, and recreation as well as South Florida’s fresh water resources.
First, the applicant does not provide sufficient assurances that the project will not adversely impact wetland function. They have located multiple staging areas in wetlands and 83% of the project area itself is within wetlands. Although they describe wetland impacts as temporary, photos from field testing of equipment show remnants of tracks in wetlands 6 months later indicating restoration will not occur rapidly. Given the flat topography of the Everglades, minor disruptions to surface elevation due to rutting and soil compaction may permanently alter hydrology. Furthermore, vibrations and vehicle traffic may crack or fracture shallow limestone strata leading to the drainage of perched hydrologic environments or sinkhole formation. These impacts to hydrology may in turn alter the character of habitat areas, such as wetlands, that wildlife depends on.
Second, noise from vibroseis buggies, destruction of wildlife burrows, clearing of vegetation, and increased traffic levels will likely adversely affect wildlife. Burnett does not indicate that wildlife surveys have been conducted to determine which sensitive species are present. Such surveys are critical in ensuring that appropriate buffer zones and avoidance of critical wetland habitat are incorporated into the project. Conducting wildlife surveys during the project is not sufficient. Once nests or other important areas are identified, it is likely that seismic survey activities will have already entered and impacted the sensitive area. The Preserve is home to imperiled species such as the wood stork, red-cockaded woodpecker, Florida panther, and eastern indigo snake. Disturbances to federally protected wildlife that affects their normal behavior in foraging, nesting, or denning could contribute to or constitute a take under the Endangered Species Act.
United States Senator Bill Nelson sums up the problem in his letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior objecting to the Burnett application, “Big Cypress National Preserve is recognized as a refuge for federally listed endangered species including the red-cockaded woodpecker and the Florida panther. Seismic surveys for possible future fracking activity are inconsistent with protection efforts and recovery plans for these imperiled species.” We agree.
Third, the Preserve provides multiple opportunities for outdoor recreation. In 2014, the Preserve had an estimated one million visitors. The use of helicopters and vehicles for surveying will likely disrupt Preserve visitors. Furthermore, allowing oil exploration operations to utilize recreational parking areas to access staging areas may interfere with public access to the Preserve and present a safety issue for visitors attempting to traverse the parking area.
Large Scale Impacts
Finally, this project is proposed as part of four Phases totaling 234,510 acres which the applicant has indicated may be pursued in the future. Following these surveys, it is likely that oil and gas extraction will expand in the area. Such a large scale project may result in substantial impacts across the Preserve.
“Seismic” testing “is troubling,” as U.S. Senator Bill Nelson puts it, because “it represents the first step towards fracking. This activity is distinctly at odds with the purpose and best use of a national preserve, and it would be reckless to allow this to move forward.” The Senator concludes that, “federal, state and local partners have spent billions of dollars working diligently to restore and protect the Everglades, Big Cypress National Preserve, and other valuable ecosystems in Florida. With so many resources devoted to protecting these treasures, approval of oil and gas exploration does not make sense and is a dangerous step in the wrong direction.”
The magnitude and scope of this project is precedent setting and the possible cumulative impacts grave. Since we don’t have any previous studies on which to calculate impacts to wetlands, wildlife, and recreation we ask for
—Full compliance with National Environmental Policy Act including
· Completion of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
· Public workshops (to learn more and offer input)
—U.S. Army Corp of Engineers review of wetland impacts.
In short, we the undersigned, request public meetings as well as more comprehensive federal review to evaluate the impacts of this project. These are critical actions since increased oil and gas extraction activities, including fracking, may result from the seismic survey. Let us not forget that these important wetlands are critical habitat for threatened species as well as vital watersheds that recharge the aquifers millions rely on for drinking water.