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Company Wants To Look For Oil And Gas In Big Cypress Preserve

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A Texas-based oil company wants to look for oil and gas within the Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County. Opponents of the proposal worry how the exploration will affect the environment - and if it could lead to the controversial resource extraction method called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

The preserve is seeking public comment through Dec. 20.

The Burnett Oil Co. wants to look at a 110-acre area within the Big Cypress Preserve.

It would use buggies equipped with a pad that sends vibrations into the ground, looking for oil and gas.

The operation would include five staging areas set in either abandoned well pads or open areas. It would also use helicopters to assist the buggies.  

Environmental activist Karen Dwyer, co-founder of the Stonecrab Alliance, said the operation will make noise and could drive out wildlife – wildlife that includes the endangered Florida panther.

“Essentially, we just think that nature has a right to live a life undisturbed especially in a national preserve because this land is not industrial land it was public land that was set aside to protect critical habitat, to safeguard our vital watersheds, to preserve cultural sites,” she said.

The National Park Service recently put out a draft environmental assessment of the plan.

Spokesperson Bob DeGross said the assessment identifies no long-term impacts.

“Concerns for wildlife are mitigated for in this activity by ensuring that the activity only takes place during daylight hours and they’re basically traveling through an area. They do not stop for long periods of time,” he said.

He said the oil company will work closely with the service if they find nesting or roosting sites. And he said there will be short-term impacts to vegetation.  

There are oil and gas operations already in the preserve. This is because its former owner – Collier Resources Co. – kept the subsurface mineral rights when it sold the land to the federal government.

DeGross said after the public comment period closes, the service will either issue a “finding of no significant impact” to  the company that lets it move forward with the plan or the service will call for a more in-depth environmental impact study.

Dwyer said the service should conduct the more robust study before making a decision.  

Topher is a reporter at WGCU News.