GOP pushing for oil drilling in national parks
On Monday, Rep. Paul Gosar, the Republican who represents Arizona’s 4th Congressional District, launched Example #117 in the Trump-era category of No Big Surprise.
He introduced a resolution to eliminate rules imposed in 2016 under the Obama administration that placed restrictions on existing oil and gas drilling operations on land governed by the National Park Service. Five Republican co-sponsors joined Gosar in backing the resolution. Nicholas Lund, senior manager of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Conservation Programs, stated in a press release:
“These challenges are direct attacks on America’s national parks. Each of these rules provides the commonsense protections for national parks that millions of Americans demand. If the Park Service’s drilling rules are repealed, national parks across the country would be subjected to poorly regulated oil and gas drilling, threatening parks’ air, water and wildlife. These attempts to weaken protections put our parks at risk. And by using the Congressional Review Act process, Congress is forever tying the hands of the agencies charged with protecting America’s favorite places. If Congress wants to protect national parks for future generations, it must reject these challenges.”
Until last year, rules governing oil and gas operations on national park lands had not been updated since 1978. Known as “9B regulations,” the new rules brought under control for the first time more than 300 previously exempt oil and gas wells and any future such operations affected by “split estate” ownership—park land where the federal government owns surface rights but not subsurface rights to oil, gas and minerals. This is the case in 42 parks and other NPS-owned sites, 12 of which have active wells. Included are Big Cypress National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park and the Flight 93 Memorial.
Besides requiring these previously exempt operations to meet National Park Service regulations, the 9B rules mandate that drillers produce a “Plan of Operations” before drilling or mining, and give the NPS authority to enforce safety requirements, to set standards to protect the parks’ air, water, and wildlife, and to raise financial bonding requirements for drillers (increasing their potential liability for leaks and damage from other accidents).
Given Gosar’s past efforts to exploit public lands, his resolution was not at all unexpected. He was appointed chairman this year of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. So there’s more of this corporate kowtowing to come.
A straight-forward, long-term, permanent solution in this matter would be for the NPS to buy the subsurface mineral rights in all the split-estate ownership cases. And then have Congress ban future drilling on all park land. No need then to fight off every attempt to weaken regulations. Any such moves, of course, will have to await the day when Paul Gosar’s party isn’t running things.