Florida Big Cypress National Preserve (home to endangered species such as Florida panther): Texas-based Burnett Oil Co. applies to dredge, fill in wetlands for future oil drilling (frac’ing?), days after Trump admin sleazily gave the state permitting authority under fed gov’t’s Clean Water Act.

Texas-based oil company applies to build well pads and roads in the Everglades by Adriana Brasileiro, Feb 5, 2021, Miami Herald in Yahoo News

A Texas-based oil company has applied for permits to build well pads and access roads in preparation for future oil drilling inside Big Cypress National Preserve, which provides habitat for endangered species such as the Florida panther.

Burnett Oil Co., which already did seismic testing to look for oil in Big Cypress in 2017 and 2018, filed two applications to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection to fill in wetlands and build new infrastructure south of Interstate 75. The requests were filed late last month, just days after the Trump administration gave the state permitting authority under the federal government’s Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

The company is asking to build the infrastructure in two new locations, according to the permit applications. The applications refer only to dredging and filling wetlands for the well pads and access roads in the Nobles Grade area and in the Tamiami area, and not to any drilling activity. The locations are near Raccoon Point, where ExxonMobil discovered oil in 1978.

Conservation groups sent a letter to DEP’s Secretary Noah Valenstein and to the National Park Service this week opposing the company’s request and complaining about the lack of transparency in the process.

“We became aware of these permit applications as a result of an exploratory search of the Department’s new Section 404 permit program database. The website itself lists no public notices regarding any Section 404 permit,” representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in the letter.

Oil exploration in Big Cypress has been going on since the 1940s. When the preserve was created in 1974, the National Park Service, which manages the area, allowed the Collier family, which owned part of the land, to continue to drill for oil in areas north of Alligator Alley and east of what is now the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. A few years later, oil was discovered in an area southwest of the Miccosukee reservation, and new wells were drilled.

One of the areas where Burnett is seeking to build on is very close to the Miccosukee reservation. The permit applications left tribe members “deeply concerned,” according to Kevin Donaldson, director of real estate services and tribal historic preservation for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.

“This area is replete with known cultural sites which cannot be impacted,” Donaldson said in an email. “The Tribe is looking at this application closely to fully evaluate the request and ensure that Miccosukee interests are protected and preserved for future generations.”

Alia Faraj-Johnson, a spokesperson at Burnett, said the purpose of the applications is to request access to privately owned mineral prospects “by way of a small limestone pad accessed by single-lane limestone road.”

“Based on existing production within the Preserve and new seismic data, we are confident that our proposed wells will be economical and not merely exploratory,” she said in emailed response to questions.

In the permit applications, Burnett provides a proposed timeline for its exploration plans: begin building the site in December 2021, start drilling in June 2022 and begin production about 12 weeks after that. Production is estimated to last for 30 years, the application says.

The company also said in the application that it’s proposing to use directional drilling from a single well pad to minimize environmental impact at the sites. Sounds to me like the company is planning to frac. In my experience and observations, multi-well pads cause as nasty and numerous environmental impacts as single-well pads, sometimes – depending on the company – much nastier and many more. Saying the opposite is just another frac con, a con that saves companies money and enables them to invade sensitive areas they ought never be allowed in. But since drilling would be happening horizontally underground, covering a large area, there is a risk to water resources under the preserve and beyond, said Alison Kelly, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“This is an area of porous limestone, and all the water in South Florida is connected,” Kelly said. She added that it’s unclear what the company would do to transport the oil for refining, and how it would manage wastewater and other byproducts of oil drilling in such a sensitive ecosystem.

Environmentalists, who have opposed the industry’s sporadic plans to expand exploration and drilling in an important freshwater wetland, were surprised by the applications.

“We are trying to reduce emissions and help resolve the climate crisis while protecting sensitive ecosystems; this project goes in the opposite direction,” said Melissa Abdo, Sun Coast regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who opposed the state taking over wetlands permitting because it would eliminate federal oversight she says is crucial for the protection of Florida’s environment, criticized the applications.

The Florida panther is among protected species that live in Big Cypress.
The Florida panther is among protected species that live in Big Cypress.

“I called earlier this week to permanently prohibit oil drilling off Florida’s coasts, and we don’t need drilling in our wetlands, either. These folks can look for oil somewhere else — keep your drilling in Texas, and don’t mess with Florida,” she said in a statement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year said Burnett had caused damage to sensitive habitats in Big Cypress, violating the Clean Water Act. In a letter in March the Corps said seismic testing led to “channelization” and had done extensive damage to “high quality wet prairie and dwarf cypress” work the agency said violated federal environmental law. The seismic work was being done under a permit granted by the National Park Service. The Corps said that the activity had caused “an identifiable individual and cumulative adverse effect on aquatic function.” The letter also said that any activity by Burnett would need to be approved by the Corps going forward.

But just a month later, the Corps reversed its assessment and said it had “engaged with the staff at Big Cypress and re-evaluated all of the current and available information” related to Burnett’s exploratory activities. The Corps concluded that there was “no clear evidence of any residual adverse effects from Burnett’s activities on the hydrology or biology of Big Cypress.” Trump command? Kickbacks?

Advocates said at the time it was “suspicious” that the agency would change its mind about damage that had been documented at Big Cypress.

Refer also to:

2021 01: Florida: Bill filed to ban frac’ing and matrix acidization, “Because fracking is bad, actually.”

2018: Florida senate’s environmental conservation committee voted 10-0 approving bipartisan bill to ban fracking statewide

2017: Nasty Slick Water Florida Politicians! Triple betrayal! Fracking investment bill would undo 2016 Supreme Court ruling

2017: Senate reversed years of opposition to statewide ban on oil & gas fracking, Advancing bill to prohibit fracking in Florida

2016: Dr. Anthony Ingraffea: Fracking and Florida don’t mix, “As usual, a few folks will get rich, everybody else will get negatively impacted, and the state will get left holding the environmental bag, and, finally, we will have killed the Everglades”

2016: Sink Hole Florida: Miami-Dade County Votes Unanimously to Ban Fracking, Citing Multiple Environmental Concerns; More than 80 Florida cities and counties have banned or expressed opposition to fracking

2016: And they want to frac Florida? Massive sinkhole causes vast waterfall of wastewater into Floridan drinking water aquifer

2016: Two new peer-reviewed studies published after Florida significantly increases toxic chemicals allowed dumped in waterways: 1) Chemicals used in fracking, other gas, oil operations increase risk of miscarriages, reduced male fertility, prostate cancer, birth defects, preterm birth by disrupting hormones; 2) Lit review shows increased risk of negative reproductive effects from exposure to fracking, other oil, gas extraction activities, especially for miscarriages, reduced semen quality, prostate cancer, birth defects, preterm birth

2016: Pinellas County Florida unanimously votes to ban fracking; Cites harm to environment, air pollution, damage to Floridan Aquifer, health problems as main reasons

2016: Florida Supreme Court blasts Florida Power & Light’s fracking charge, State regulators exceeded their authority allowing the utility, a company, to charge customers for investment in fracing, transferring risk from shareholders to customers

2016: “Your job is to protect Floridians, not to poison us.” Deregulation: All the better to frac ‘n poison you with. Florida DEP trying to ease restrictions on discharged chemicals into rivers, lakes, coastal waters

2016: The insanity of soon to be “more porous than Swiss cheese” Florida: “It’s a shameful day.” Will fracing swallow the state in endless sink holes and quakes?

2015: Florida City Council of Bonita Springs votes, unanimously bans fracking: “Preserving our water supply is the No. 1 priority…. Water really fuels our economy—not oil.

2014: Florida jury slams tobacco company with $23.6B in punitive damages in widow’s lawsuit; We can say no to smoking near loved ones, can’t say no to being poisoned by fracing or dishonest frac promotion by regulators, companies, CAPP, CSUR and frac patent holder, Dr. Maurice Dusseault

2014: Florida: Collier County Goes To Court Over ‘Acid Fracking’ Near Everglades, charges that state regulators lax in oversight, jeopardizing public health and environment

2014: Florida Department Environmental Protection fines Dan A. Hughes Company $25,000 for fracing without permission; Company says it didn’t frac, it stimulated (where have we heard that before? Hint: Encana, lying – of course – in their Statement of Defence for my case)

2012: Florida Fracking threat to environment

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