Representative Paul A. Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, has introduced a resolution in Congress to make it easier for companies with rights to resources that partially exist beneath national parks to start drilling on national park lands. According to Washington Post, under current law, the National Park Service has the sole authority to manage private drilling for oil, gas, and minerals at more than 40 of America’s national parks. If the National Park Service determines that a proposed drilling operation would be a threat to the environment in these parks, it can deny the request of a private company even if the company has rights to the minerals, oil, or gas that exist beneath the surface of the land.
Not all national parks would be impacted by the rule change. Only parks that have a policy in place known as split-estate ownership, in which the National Park Service owns the surface but other parties can own underground resources, would potentially be impacted.
A few of the parks that have split-estate ownership include Everglades National Park in Florida, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), a nonprofit watchdog group, released a statement about the proposed national parks drilling rule change on its website.
“The resolution is just the latest in a series of moves by federal lawmakers to weaken environmental protections for national parks under the Congressional Review Act,” the statement reads. “If these repeals are signed into law it will not only stop these protections, it will also prohibit agencies from issuing similar rules and protections in the future, unless directed by Congress.”
The rules currently in place are called 9B rules and are meant to put reasonable safeguards in place over oil, gas, and mineral drilling on national park lands. The NPCA goes on to describe exactly why eliminating these rules could be potentially disastrous for the national parks impacted.
“If Congress repeals these rules, drilling could occur in national parks with little more than bare-minimum state regulations,” the NPCA statement reads. “The Park Service will have essentially no authority over oil and gas development proposed inside national parks. Leaks and spills could go unpunished without NPS authority to enforce safety standards. Companies would be able to build roads through national parks to begin drilling, such as the 11-mile road through the heart of Big Cypress National Preserve built to reach an oil and gas lease. Drilling companies would not be required to inform parks or park visitors about when or how drilling operations would occur.”
According to Fox 6 Now, a 2016 national survey concluded that 77 percent of registered voters say the United States benefits from its national parks system, with 55 percent saying they personally benefit. The support was widely bipartisan, with a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents all agreeing that the National Park Service should protect national parks. Eighty-six percent of those who responded said they support the idea that the National Park Service should keep coal mining and drilling for oil and gas away from park boundaries.
According to Fox 6 Now, Congressman Gosar, who is proposing the rule change to allow drilling, has received over $250,000 in donations from energy companies who could potentially benefit from the rule change he is proposing. Paul Gosar was recently appointed to chair the House subcommittee on energy and minerals.
According to PBS, American author and environmentalist Wallace Stegner called America’s national parks “the best idea we ever had.” This view is shared by many Americans who have marveled at the exquisite beauty that can be found in these parks. To many Americans, the interests of businesses who want to claim drilling rights in national parks cannot possibly surpass the need to make sure these parks remain exquisite examples of the unique scenery that lies between America’s shores.
[Featured Image by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images]