Citizens protest proposed oil drilling in Big Cypress with hike, talks

Burnett Oil’s application permits are for two proposed drilling and production operations in…

Citizens protest proposed oil drilling in Big Cypress with hike, talks 1
Citizens protest proposed oil drilling in Big Cypress with hike, talks 2

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Protesters hike to possible oil drilling site in Big Cypress National Preserve

Miccosukee elder Betty Osceola speaks about proposed Big Cypress oil drilling and development on Saturday, April 10, 2021.

Amanda Inscore, Naples Daily News

Gathering at a trailhead off Alligator Alley Saturday morning, about 40 people stood in a large circle, heads bowed.

They were listening to Betty Osceola, an elder with the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, give a prayer near the southern end of the Florida Trail.

The group was about to embark on a southbound hike, following a marked trail through wet prairies, pinewood flats and dwarf cypresses. The journey, about four miles in and four miles back, is an effort to inform and educate the public on Burnett Oil Co.’s permits to begin exploratory drilling in Big Cypress National Preserve.

The company filed four applications with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Jan. 22 to begin constructing the pads in one of the nation’s first national preserves. The company previously undertook seismic exploration projects in the preserve in 2017 prompting a legal battle the oil company ultimately won.

Burnett is leasing from the Collier Resources Co., which owns the mineral rights, and spokeswoman Alia Faraj told the Daily News in an email, “Burnett’s efforts in minimizing and mitigating its impacts will create a net-zero impact on wetlands within the preserve.”

About two miles into the hike, Osceola stopped the group so she could speak to the Democratic Women’s League via Zoom.

Previous coverage: Oil drilling permits would destroy historic Everglades, environmental groups tell feds

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Part of the oil company’s permits would bring an oil pad right next to Miccosukee land, she told them.

“There are a lot of sacred sites really close to the impact of the pad,” she said.

Burnett’s application permits are for two “proposed drilling and production operations.”

One location, called the Tamiami Prospect, is near the Miccosukee land and will have a “small limestone pad accessed by a single-lane limestone road” off an existing Burnett operation on the eastern boundary of the preserve, known as Racoon Point, according to documents filed with DEP.

The other, called the Nobles Grade Prospect, where the protestors hiked, will have similar infrastructure, but will not be on existing operations. The permit’s location map shows a southwestern road leading to the pad emanating from mile marker 63 off Interstate 75.

Florida recently took control of a federal dredge-and-fill permit process, known as Section 404, and Burnett’s permit applications mark some of the first to go through the state.

Environmental groups sent a letter in early February to DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein that stresses repeated concerns about the degradation of the ecosystem. (https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/letter-oil-drilling-big-cypress-20210203.pdf)

Mathew Schwartz with the South Florida Wildlands Association, said he’s positive these permits will allow the company to drill horizontally rather than just straight down, and this has Osceola wondering if the company will be accessing oil that might be rightfully owned by the tribe.

At the hike’s destination, Osceola stopped the group to discuss how those interested can get involved. Relaying a story about how she is the last generation to still live off the land, she said it is up to people to put pressure on the Department of the Interior, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies involved in the permitting of the oil wells

“I want to heal the landscape and help it get healthier,” she said.

Houston Cypress of the Miccosukee, who scouted the walk earlier in the week, asked the hikers what they felt during the trip when the walk ended.

Yells of “Spirit,” “Connected,” and “At Home” answered him.

As the hikers rested, more people joined the in the parking lot with homemade signs.

Cypress organized Signs Across the Alley where demonstrators chanted “Defend the Sacred,” “No to Burnett Oil” along the backdrop of Big Cypress as eastbound traffic on I-75 whipped by with horns sometimes blaring.


“There are indigenous rights embedded in this land,” Cypress said. “Next time, I want to see more people here. Next time, bring your friends.”

Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to kschneider@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk

Citizens protest proposed oil drilling in Big Cypress with hike, talks 3

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