Park Service Considers Oil and Gas Survey in Florida Preserve

Published January 21, 2016

The National Park Service (NPS) is considering a proposal by Burnett Oil Company to conduct a survey of potential oil and gas reserves in Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP) in Ochopee, Florida.

The agency is considering three plans to detect oil in a 110-square-mile area within BCNP. One option would involve “thumper trucks” pounding the ground to produce seismic acoustical signals, or vibrations, detected by receivers that would allow the mapping of the subsurface geology in order to detect oil. A second option would involve detonating explosives for the same purpose. The third proposed option would maintain the status quo, preventing any survey.

Preserve Currently Produces Oil

Oil production in BCNP is not unusual, says Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research.

“The Big Cypress preserve has been producing energy since the 1940s, and exploration, including seismic, has been taking place ever since,” said Kish.

Exxon Mobil has produced oil within the preserve at its 23-well Bear Island field since 1972 and at its 17-well Raccoon Point field since 1978.

Environmental groups object to expanded exploration or production within BCNP and are demanding a full environmental impact survey (EIS) to assess whether the project will have adverse impacts on the environment or wildlife in the park.

Kish says a new EIS is unnecessary.

“The technologies used today are much more advanced than those originally used, and there was no damage that precluded the previous establishment and expansion of the preserve,” Kish said. 

Potential Harm Temporary

NPS has already conducted a preliminary environmental assessment (EA) that determined using thumper trucks “could potentially have some impact on protected wildlife, major game species, and other wildlife in the Preserve.

“Some species could be subjected to short-term stress during their breeding season [as a result of the thumper trucks],” NPS in its assessment. “Although not anticipated, mortality/injury to wildlife could also occur.”

The EA also reports some benefits could accrue to protected wildlife through new “data acquisition, collection, and sharing with agency personnel.”

The EA indicates any impacts on water quality or circulation would be short-term.

“The economic benefits of energy production are enormous, including very good-paying jobs, taxes, and new energy sources,” said Kish. “These jobs are especially important in rural areas.

“Since it can be done with no noticeable impact owing to technological advances in exploration, development, and production, allowing the mineral estate owner to exercise their rights is the right thing to do,” Kish said.

“It’s probably too early to tell what the National Park Service will do,” Kish said. “Under the Obama administration, the Interior Department has been strongly opposed to producing oil and gas from public lands, as evidenced by the declining production figures from federal lands and waters.”

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.