Oil Hunt Damages Everglades’ Big Cypress National Preserve
By Alison Kelly
New oil development has no place in sensitive wetland habitats in the Florida Everglades. The Burnett Oil Company, based in Texas, claimed it could explore for oil in the Big Cypress National Preserve with no significant, long-term impacts to sensitive wetlands. But these claims have been refuted, as Burnett Oil has caused significant damage.
As NRDC previously reported, the fossil fuel industry targeted the Big Cypress National Preserve in the western Everglades for oil development, beginning the first of four planned phases of seismic survey activities in 2017. However, heavy rains forced the oil company out of the preserve before the seismic activities were complete.
Even after damaging wetland soils and vegetation last year, the oil company returned to the preserve this spring to continue its hunt for oil.
NRDC and its partners retained environmental professionals to inspect and document the damage these activities are causing. Here's a report outlining the damage along with recommendations for restoration, mitigation and long-term monitoring. The consultants observed extensive soil rutting, which will have long-term adverse effects on the preserve's hydrology, soils and vegetation. Nonetheless, there were no signs that the oil company attempted to restore the wetland impacts, as its state and federal permits require. For example, the 33-ton "vibroseis" vehicles compacted and deeply rutted soils due to their sheer weight. These ruts are almost 2 feet deep in places.
The vibroseis vehicles created seismic survey lines that are up to 15 feet wide. In several locations where vibroseis vehicles turned around or were rerouted, consultants observed even wider paths of soil disturbance.
Soil damage in Big Cypress National PreserveNRDC
Removal of vegetation and subsequent exposure of soils to direct sunlight alters social chemistry, and the churning and rutting of soils disturbs natural soil horizons. If not corrected, each of these soil impacts will affect the composition and abundance of vegetation regrowth in the impacted areas. Soil ruts can also create opportunities for invasion of exotic and nuisance plant species. Within the soil ruts created by the vibroseis and other off-road vehicles, the vegetation coverage was estimated at less than 5%, in stark contrast to the dense and diverse herbaceous vegetation present in the adjacent, undisturbed wetlands.
Seismic survey lines bisected dwarf cypress tree strands, and in these areas, consultants noted an abundance of dead cypress trees and stumps, both within and adjacent to the seismic survey lines. They frequently observed scarring of cypress trees growing adjacent to the seismic survey lines, but saw no evidence of efforts to treat tree wounds.
Dwarf cypress trees tend to be very old despite their small size, primarily due to the infertile soils and extreme hydrologic conditions where they grow. For example, a dwarf cypress tree with a diameter breast height of 4 inches could range in age from 31 to 2,500 years. These dwarf cypress trees are the cornerstone of the Big Cypress ecosystem. They provide important roosting sites and refuge from high water levels for birds and other wildlife, essential habitat for state endangered bromeliads such as the cardinal air-plant, scratching posts for the Florida black bear and the critically endangered Florida panther, and a food source for the threatened Big Cypress fox squirrel.
But the survey crews cut and mowed down dwarf cypress trees, some with bromeliads still attached, to make way for the oil exploration. The creation of seismic survey lines in roadless wetlands could invite unauthorized recreational off-road vehicle use, which will disturb wildlife, widen and deepen seismic survey lines, and increase the potential for litter. This all increases the risk of restoration failure.
Burnett Oil Company has proven that new oil development has no place in the sensitive wetlands of the Everglades. Its damage contradicts its own argument that the oil exploration would have no significant long-term effects.
Burnett Oil Company should be halted from doing further harm to this sensitive habitat, given the severity and extent of the wetland damage it has caused through its seismic activities.
State and federal agencies must now require the oil company to fully restore the wetland damage and monitor the success of the restoration in the long-term, to avoid exacerbation of the damage and further loss of wetland function. The company must also provide compensatory mitigation elsewhere in the preserve for the loss of wetland functions that have occurred, and will continue to occur, until they are fully restored. Big Cypress National Preserve is one of Florida's true ecological gems and should be preserved, as its name implies.
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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