Rangers speak out against oil and gas drilling at national parks

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of many national parks threatened by oil and gas fracking. 

The controversial practice of oil and gas fracking is moving dangerously closer to our national parks, damaging habitat and the scenic qualities that draw thousands of visitors each year.

This was the message from a group of park rangers and the National Parks Conservation Association at a Congressional briefing they hosted on the topic on June 19.

The Wilderness Society has been working closely with both groups on pushing for more responsible oil and gas development near parks and on our public lands.

During the briefing, the groups told Congressional staffers that road construction and fracking site development is causing problems for wildlife migration, air quality and the general peace and scenic beauty of numerous parks throughout the country.

For example, at the Grand Tetons National Park, nearby fracking is disrupting migration patterns of bighorn sheep. Fracking wells currently dot the borders of North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park and Montana’s Glacier National Park as well. And, meanwhile, at Dinosaur National Monument, a gas lease sale is going on across the street from the Visitor Center.

Fracking infrastructure is harming scenic views and natural sounds, while the once unblemished night skies at some parks are being tainted by an increase in automobile noise and nighttime gas flares, said James Nations, Vice President of Parks Research at the NPCA. These emissions are also tied to a decrease in air quality around sites. 

Nations cited Teddy Roosevelt National Park as an example of the now blemished night skies being tainted by gas flares.

Video: Oil and gas fracking doesn't need to be inside national parks to damage them.


Fracking development is also putting pressure on wildlife resources and migrating species at several national parks, and generally leads to a loss of park biological diversity, according to an NPCA report presented by Nations during the briefing.

Nations reported that there are currently 35,000 fracking wells drilled in the US. Each well requires one to five and a half million gallons of freshwater in which 60-75% of the freshwater remains underground. This leads to a staggering 170 billion gallons of water used in current fracking operations. Nations also commented that it could take one thousand years or more before this water will eventually be cycled back for human use. 

Ellis Richard, a former ranger and founder of Park Rangers for Our Lands, highlighted why it is important to protect the area’s around the park.
The federal government needs to step up and put in regulations to make sure that what makes national parks special is protected, said Richard, a 30-year veteran of the Park Service.

Like The Wilderness Society, The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is calling for increased federal safeguards from oil drilling and fracking.

Neither group opposes all oil and gas development, however, they said they want to stress the importance of developing smart from the start fracking policies that further energy development while protecting cherished lands.

Issues with fracking

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a technique in which millions of gallons of high pressurized water mixed with sand and chemicals are pumped into horizontally drilled holes miles below the surface in order to release natural gas/oil from the shale rock. Fracking technology has matured over the past 15 years to the point where the technique contributes up to 90% of domestic oil and gas production. However, the emerging negative impacts associated with fracking are becoming a greater widespread concern, especially near our sensitive wildlands.

The water returned to the surface from fracking is contaminated with chemicals, brines, and other pollutants making it unusable for any other purposes but fracking jobs.
The sheer amount of water used during fracking has left rivers and streams flowing into our national parks drier and dirtier.

A planning process from federal agencies that takes into account habitat and sensitive land issues is essential for making sure that our wild lands stay free of development and available for recreation.

In the NCPA’s report, they conclude that smart planning, comprehensive pollution monitoring, and the use of widely available and affordable pollution control practices will ensure that oil and gas development near national parks will not degrade air quality, water, plants, fish and wildlife, or cultural resources.

With the constant budget cuts across the federal government, including the National Park Service, making it harder for National Parks to defend their land, now is the time to develop these smart from the start policies.

See also: 

42 national parks threatened by oil and gas drilling