WASHINGTON -- November 17 -- The Sierra Club today released documents showing that the Bush administration gave special treatment to Texas-based Davis Brothers Oil Producers, Inc., when it reversed a longstanding policy in order to allow oil and gas drilling underneath certain national parks, preserves and refuges regardless of potential environmental impacts. More than a dozen National Park Service areas could be impacted by the rule, including Big Thicket National Preserve and Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, New River Gorge in West Virginia, and Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida.
Documents obtained by Sierra Club through the Freedom of Information Act show that the Bush administration changed the rule specifically at the request of Ross Davis, who runs Davis Brothers Oil Producers. Moreover, the administration made its decision in secret and bypassed the regular rulemaking process, which allows for public input and a high degree of transparency.
These documents show that the Bush administration bent over backwards to help its friends in the oil and gas industry even when the facts showed that its policy would harm national parks," said Brandt Mannchen of the Sierra Clubs Lone Star Chapter, who has been tracking drilling problems around Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas. "This administration seems to think there are two sets of rules, one for oil and gas companies and one for everyone else."
In an effort to right the wrong, the Sierra Club today took legal action to overturn this new rule, asserting that the Bush administration broke the law by cutting the public out of a back-door process of adopting a new rule. The group filed a complaint in federal district court arguing that the Bush administration adopted the new rule in blatant disregard of its obligations to protect Americas National Parks.
In November 2003, the NPS issued a new policy that allows private companies unrestricted access to oil and gas underneath NPS units so long as they drill for it at an angle from outside park boundaries using "directional drilling." This new rule ties the National Park Services hands, forcing them to turn a blind eye to the destruction that may occur around the Park Service areas as a result of the drilling. Prior to the new rule, the National Park Service required oil and gas companies to prove that proposed drilling would not harm the National Park Service unit.
The Bush administration broke the law. Now they must reinstate the Park Services authority to require full environmental review and approval of oil and gas companies drilling operations adjacent to park boundaries, said Pat Gallagher, Sierra Club legal director.
Private oil and gas development is generally prohibited within the National Park system. However, more than a dozen specific areas are unique in that the Park Service only owns the surface rights, while private entities hold title to the subsurface minerals.
Areas that are affected by the new rule include:
Gulf Islands National Seashore Alabama
Big Cypress National Preserve Florida
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve -- Kansas
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area -- Kentucky
Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve -- Louisiana
Aztec Ruins National Monument -- New Mexico
Cuyahoga Valley National Park -- Ohio
Obed Wild and Scenic River -- Tennessee
Big Thicket National Preserve -- Texas
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument -- Texas
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area -- Texas
Padre Island National Seashore -- Texas
Gauley River National Recreation Area -- West Virginia
New River Gorge National River -- West Virginia.
For a copy of documents pertaining to the case, please contact Annie Strickler at (202) 675-2384 or Eric Antebi at (415) 977-5747.