Green Groups Urge Haaland to Reject Drilling in the Everglades

Image: NPS

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

On Tuesday, a coalition of conservation organizations signed a letter to the Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland, urging her to deny Burnett Oil Company’s requests to drill for oil in Big Cypress National Preserve which is a part of the Greater Everglades. 

The proposed oil extraction activities would be detrimental to the Preserve’s purposes and impair the Preserve for the enjoyment of future generations,” the letter states. 

The coalition says that drilling in the region goes against the Biden-Harris administration’s initiatives to combat the climate crisis, conserve 30% of public lands and waters by 2030, and deliver environmental justice.

Why This Matters: In the first two days of the Biden administration, the Interior Department placed a moratorium on oil and gas drilling on public lands, in keeping with President Biden’s campaign promises. The order banned any new leasing, drilling, or mining, on public lands for 60 days, and since then has been extended indefinitely. Advocates worry that in addition to going against those early actions, granting new drilling leases will infringe upon the Indigenous sovereignty of the Miccosukee tribal lands, when the Biden administration has promised to uphold Indigenous sovereignty and deliver environmental justice. 

For many, this case offers the new administration an opportunity to prove its commitment to climate action, public health, conservation, and environmental justice.

The Objection:  The letter notes that Burnett Oil has “already caused extensive damage during its first phase of oil exploration within a 110-square mile area,” and, “has not yet completed the required mitigation or monitoring required by its National Park Service access permit.”

If granted the permit, Burnett Oil plans to go through with three more phases of drilling, encompassing 366 square miles, one whole third of the preserve. This, the letter states would violate a statute that, although it does not entirely prohibit oil and gas drilling, prohibits “threatened uses that would be detrimental to the purposes of the Preserve.” 

Cara Capp, senior Everglades program manager for National Parks Conservation Association said in a statement, “people don’t come to a national park to see oil wells. The constant threat of oil and gas exploration in Big Cypress National Preserve jeopardizes the sensitive habitat this park provides for endangered species.”

 

For-Everglades: For the past 20 years, a project to restore the Florida Everglades has been moving forward in “fits and starts.” 

  • Enacted near the end of the Clinton administration, the project received bipartisan support and was originally funded by $7.8 million. Experts call it the most ambitious ecosystem recovery plan ever enacted. 
  • The project, a “vast re-plumbing scheme,” seeks to rebuild and replicate historical waterways that once made South Florida one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. 
  • However, anti-flooding projects enacted to protect cities in the 1940s devastated this natural landscape. 
  • And now, under the looming threat of climate change, sea-level rise, and an extinction crisis, experts say that the Everglades have reached a critical crossroads. “Decisions taken in the next few months may well determine whether the Everglades project lives up to its promise of reviving the South Florida ecosystem,” said the New York Times Editorial Board.

The region is just now seeing a resurgence of key species including the Florida panther, which bounced back from the brink of extinction from just 30 individuals to 200. Even so, 25% of 1,200 surveyed species in Florida are currently at risk of losing 50% of their populations in the next 30 years. The Everglades’ mangrove forests also serve as a crucial carbon sink, sequestering up to $3.4 billion worth of carbon. But that superpower may be weakened if oil companies are allowed to extract in these fragile ecosystems.

 

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