gas pump just outside of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Think your favorite recreation spot is protected from oil and gas drilling? Not necessarily. In fact, all public lands, including national parks and wildlife refuges, are potentially open to oil and gas leasing, except for areas specially designated as “Wilderness.”
A recent report by the Center for American Progress revealed 42 threatened national parks - 12 where oil and gas drilling is currently happening and 30 where it could be in the near future.
National Parks and Monuments where oil and gas drilling is allowed:
- Big Cypress National Preserve. Florida's southern estuary has been drilled for the past 60 years and currently has 20 oil and gas operations set up inside its boundaries.
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This park in Ohio rests on the highly desired Marcellus shale and there are currently 96 hydrofracturing operations inside its bounds.
- Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. This gem of Kentucky and Tennessee takes the cake with 284 oil and gas operations on its land! America's first oil well was actually sited here in 1818, but most of the current wells were dug in the 70s and 80s, 100 of which are still active.
Parks that could be opened to drilling soon include:
- Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming
- Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes National Parks in Colorado
- Santa Monica Mountains National Park in California
- Glen Canyon National Park in Arizona
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico
- Everglades and Gulf Islands National Parks in Florida
Even parks that are very popular for visitors are still threatened by oil and gas companies. Every year, The Wilderness Society fights back attempts by oil and gas companies to drill just outside of these iconic lands:
- Chaco Canyon National Park in New Mexico
- Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah
- Glacier National Park in Montana
- Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado
In fact, drilling can take place inside many public lands:
- national parks and monuments
- lands adjacent to national parks and monuments
- national wildlife refuges
- national forest lands, especially in the eastern U.S.
National Wildlife Refuges where drilling is allowed
The Alaska Wildlife Refuge has received quite a bit of attention lately for its exposure to oil and gas drilling, but it isn't the only refuge that faces such perils. Here are some lesser known habitats that are also encountering great risks:
- Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge. This Globally Important Bird Area in Indiana has been hurt badly by drilling activities. There have been cases of species decline, oil runoff and contamination, effects that can take a long time to reverse.
- Baca National Wildlife Refuge. Southern Colorado has minerals beneath its surface that are owned by a company that has requested permission for exploratory drilling. There may also be natural gas here, which would pose additional threats.
- Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Like many in Louisiana, this refuge has had more than its fair share of dangers. It was set up as a sanctuary for migratory birds, but tropical storms and hurricanes frequently disturb the area and gulf exploration nearby has also caused oil spills in its waters. If this isn't enough, canals dug for pipelines inside the refuge are increasing erosion of the remaining marsh.
National Forests and oil and gas drilling
As natural gas exploration increases national forests in the East have come under extreme pressure. The Marcellus Shale lies deep beneath northeastern woods, and gas companies will stop at nothing to get at this prized energy source. In the last couple years, the federal government leased or scheduled for auction more than 10 times as much land as it had in the previous two years, according to the Post. These are the forests that lovers of wild lands have been working especially hard to defend:
- Allegheny National Forest. Pennsylvania's only national forest contains 10,000 oil and gas wells - more than in all the other national forests combined. Efforts to regulate drilling here have been difficult as oil and gas companies have attempted to ban the Forest Service from any efforts to lessen environmental impacts.
- Talladega National Forest. This summer, Alabama's forest generated enough local buzz to cause the government to delay the auction of 43,000 of its acres. This may be partially because one of the areas up for auction included a popular lakeside recreation spot.
- George Washington Forest. This forest proved to be a Virginian treasure when 54,000 public comments were submitted regarding a proposed ban on horizontal drilling for fracking. While this caused the Forest Service to delay any final plans, the ban is now being reconsidered due to protests from the oil and gas industry.
- Wayne National Forest. Federal officials weren't so accommodating in Ohio, however. The Forest Service has refused to issue an Environmental Impact Statement, just one sign of their apparent indifference.
- Monongahela National Forest. Hydrofracking wastewater is killing plants and trees in West Virginia. This just further demonstrates how much these forests depend on us for their survival - now more than ever.
Photo credits: Drill in Kentucky's Big South Fork from NPS; Oil in marsh from gulf spill from USFWS; Fracking vehicles in forest from Virginia Dept. Mines, Minerals and Energy.