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Federal Court Rules in Favor of Oil & Gas Exploration in Big Cypress

Big Cypress National Preserve
Judy Gallagher, Flickr creative commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A federal court judge in Fort Myers ruled against a consortium of Environmental advocacy groups Monday in a lawsuit against the National Park Service and a Texas oil company.  The lawsuit was an attempt to prevent seismic testing for oil and gas reserves in Big Cypress National Preserve

The group of environmental advocacy groups initially filed the lawsuit against the National Park Service and the Burnett Oil Co. last fall after the company was given the green light to begin seismic testing in a 70,000-acre survey area in the preserve to search for potential underground stores of oil and gas.  The suit alleged that the National Park Service should have completed a comprehensive environmental impact statement on potential impacts of the seismic survey. 

The process involves using 33-ton ‘thumper trucks’ that lower metal plates to the ground, which then emits seismic vibrations that help find geologic formations that may contain oil and gas.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida was involved in the lawsuit.  Senior Environmental Policy Specialist with the Conservancy, Amber Crooks, said they’re concerned about the impact of the seismic survey work on wildlife and their natural habitat.

“The Big Cypress is home to some really important species for Florida; Red-cockaded woodpeckers, Wood Storks, Florida panther,” said Crooks.

“They make the preserve their home as a refuge, let alone with the concerns that we have about soil rutting and vegetation begin flattened or cut, disturbing this wildlife.”

The Burnett co. confirms preliminary scouting work on the project began on March 27, and that the seismic testing was slated to have begun on or around April 19.  Burnett’s permit from the state expires July 15 and the seismic survey work must be completed before the summer rainy season begins. 

Earlier this month, Senior U.S. District Judge John Steele rejected a request for a preliminary injunction against Burnett to halt the seismic testing work before he had ruled on the case. 

The company points to 47 conditions they’re required to meet to minimize negative impacts including staying away from wading bird colonies and repairing soil rutting caused by the large thumper trucks.  The environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council have not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.  Along with the NRDC and the Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Parks Conservation Association, Earthworks and the South Florida Wildlands Association were listed as plaintiffs in the failed lawsuit.

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John Davis has been a full-time Reporter/Producer for WGCU since 2009. He is the local host for NPRââââ