Oil and Gas Drilling Near National Parks: A Fine Balance

This past July, Sectary of Interior Ryan Zinke signed an order that would streamline the process of federal oil and gas permits for BLM properties.  Although this at a glance seems to be a good thing-clearing the backlog of leases and allowing more domestic oil to be drilled. However, this order will have a bigger impact on the national parks surrounded by federally managed public lands such as Dinosaur National Monument.  Zinke’s order will allow for at least one permit that abuts the Monument and several more within view of the visitors center.  The drilling near the park could impact the views, air quality and night skies. The superintendent for the Monument has asked the BLM to remove these leases from the public sale.  The public comment deadline is October 1 so we will not know the outcome of the protests or the requests for a few months. 

Overall, the new order from Zinke showcases the new administration’s approach to managing federal lands and drilling. According to an article in the July 24, 2017 High Country News, this new threat is a “preview of how the Trump administration’s approach to fossil fuel development on public land and in federal waters may impact beloved and fragile Western places. In executive orders in March and April, Trump called for expanding and expediting drilling in federal lands and waters, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke fleshed out the pro-drilling strategies in secretarial orders in March and July.  This determination to ramp up drilling likely will revive old conflicts, sparking more protests and lawsuits. Already the Trump team is backtracking from Obama administration efforts to head off litigation by getting earlier public input on which areas are appropriate for drilling and which others are better left for recreation, wildlife, grazing or other uses. If these struggles end up in court, they could snarl energy projects for years, backfiring on industry and Trump.” 

The rollback of Obama administration rules can be a lengthy and costly process as the administration has to open each to an environmental analysis and public comment.  There is some hope for conservationists: this process has already had some impact on keeping in place the Methane Gas Rule; and the BLM will not offer leases near Rocky Mountain National Park and Zion National Park.   

As the process moves forward, we will continue to provide updates on the issues and alert our members if public comment is necessary.  For a more in depth article about this issue, click here to see the July 24, 2017 issue of High Country News