Collier oil exploration debate continues

Published: Updated:

NAPLES, Fla. Machines weighing 30 tons are rolling into Big Cypress National Preserve as crews search for gas and oil.

The National Park Service gave its approval in May 2016 for Burnett Oil Company to conduct a seismic survey. The underground mineral rights are held by the Collier Resource Company, which is leasing those rights to Burnett.

But some aren’t giving up on the fight against the work.

“A lot of people get angry. I get sad. Sometimes the thought is, you know, I just want to live,” Miccosukee tribe member Betty Osceola said.

Osceola is among those against the exploration that’s been in the works for years.

For her, it’s personal.

“Being an indigenous person, my people have ancestral ties here,” Osceola said. “There are a lot of burial grounds in this area.”

More than 400 recorded cultural sites exist in the preserve, according to the park service. Osceola doesn’t want those sites disturbed and said she can’t see what benefit the exploration brings to her tribe.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has been fighting the work since last year over concerns about soils, vegetation, how it would impact the hydrology of the area and how it might disturb wildlife, conservancy official Amber Crooks said.

The conservancy is one of the entities listed in court documents challenging the project. A judge overturned the challenge, allowing the project to continue.

The work could help meet oil needs and keep gas prices low, proponents say.

“The working man has to go back and forth and feed his family,” Jimmy Blanks said. “When you take gas money out of his pocket, that’s when you’re hurting him.”

Burnett released the following statement about the work:

“We appreciate the confidence the National Park Service has placed in Burnett’s approved Plan of Operations as we conduct surveying within the Big Cypress National Preserve. We will be working closely with the National Park Service’s staff to ensure we follow their guidelines. As a company, we strive to promote a culture of preservation and good stewardship on the land where we operate. We will protect that legacy through our work in Southwest Florida.”

Oil and gas production makes up nearly 3 percent of Florida’s employment, according to That’s about 300,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The machines can only work during dry season, and Burnett crews will follow the equipment making sure ruts get filled in and plants are replaced if necessary, the park service said.

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