The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

National Park Oil Drilling Rules Slated for Improvement

New Protections Should Be Extended Beyond Oil & Gas to All Mineral Extraction


The National Park Service (NPS) is now moving to update antiquated
rules for oil and gas drilling inside park units. In formal comments
filed today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
urges the agency to extend these new protections to sand, gravel and
other mineral extractions that are currently unregulated.

November 25, 2009, NPS published an Advance Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking on an agency effort to revise its regulations governing
exploitation of non-federal (both private and state held) oil and gas
rights in parks. The public comment period on the proposal ends Monday,
January 25, 2010.

There are nearly 700 oil and gas operations
in 13 national parks, ranging from Big Cypress National Preserve in
Florida to Padre Island National Seashore in Texas (full list below).
The current NPS rules are more than 30 years old. The agency seeks to
modernize them in order to address:

  • Loopholes that exempt more than half the drilling operations;
  • Incentives for directional drilling and operating standards that minimize effects on park lands; and
  • Inadequate financial assurance and bonding requirements as well as the fee and penalty structures.

its comments, PEER commends the NPS effort but suggests that the
rulemaking be extended to cover all non-federal minerals, not just oil
and gas. PEER points out that at present, there are no regulations that
govern operations in parks in connection with non-federal minerals,
other than petroleum.

Non-federal mineral rights besides oil
and gas are also being developed in several parks and extraction rights
exist in many areas of the national park system. These rights include
sand and gravel and coal. Where the NPS regulates these operations, if
at all, the NPS must apply a patchwork of ill-fitting rules, such as
those governing commercial vehicles.

"Strengthening the park
drilling rules is sorely needed and we applaud the Park Service's
effort," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "However, the same
legal authority empowering the Park Service to regulate oil and gas
operations also empowers the agency to regulate mineral extraction. As
long as NPS is updating one set of rules it should also take care of
the other."

Private sub-surface rights within national parks,
forests and refuges have proven problematic for land managers in that
the property right to the sub-surface asset often creates conflicts
(noise, pollution, etc.) on the surface lands that are maintained for
wildlife habitat, cultural resources or other values.

to the NPS, the 13 units of the national park system affected by
non-federal oil and gas operations are Alibates Flint Quarries National
Monument (TX), Aztec Ruins National Monument (NM), Big Cypress National
Preserve (FL), Big Thicket National Preserve (TX), Big South Fork
National River and Recreation Area (TN, KY), Cuyahoga Valley NP(OH),
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site (ND), Gauley River
National River (WV), Lake Meredith National Recreation Area (TX), New
River Gorge National River (WV), Obed Wild and Scenic River (TN), Padre
Island National Seashore (TX), Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (KS)

Read the PEER comments

See the NPS Advanced Notice of Rulemaking

Look at how the Forest Service struggles with non-federal oil and gas claims

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.