Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Oil Hunt Damages Everglades’ Big Cypress National Preserve

Popular
Vibroseis vehicles in Big Cypress National Preserve. NRDC

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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Women walk from Santa Monica beach after a social media workout on the sand on May 12, 2020 in Santa Monica, California. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Independence Day weekend is a busy time for coastal communities as people flock to the beaches to soak up the sun during the summer holiday. This year is different. Some of the country's most popular beach destinations in Florida and California have decided to close their beaches to stop the surge in coronavirus cases.

Read More Show Less
Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans and others who suffer from PTSD. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Arash Javanbakht

For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.

Read More Show Less
Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs. Mathias Appel / Flickr

Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs, warns a year-long inquiry into Australia's "most loved animal." The report published by the Parliament of New South Wales (NSW) paints a "stark and depressing snapshot" of koalas in Australia's southeastern state.

Read More Show Less
NASA is advancing tools like this supercomputer model that created this simulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to better understand what will happen to Earth's climate if the land and ocean can no longer absorb nearly half of all climate-warming CO2 emissions. NASA/GSFC

By Jeff Berardelli

For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.

Read More Show Less
A child stands in what is left of his house in Utuado, Puerto Rico, which was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria, on Oct. 12, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios. Flickr, CC by 2.0
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
Read More Show Less
President Trump's claim last September that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama's gulf coast was quickly refuted by employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). An independent investigation found that NOAA's chief violated the agency's ethics when he backed Trump's warning and doctored map that used a Sharpie to alter the storm's path, as EcoWatch reported.
Read More Show Less

Trending

African bush elephants in the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve in Botswana on Nov. 22, 2016. Michael Jansen / Flickr

More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.

Read More Show Less