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National parks on alert as congressman introduces resolution to roll back oil drilling restrictions

Affected parks would include Grand Tetons, Everglades, and the Flight 93 Memorial

Oxbow Bend in Grand Tetons National Park. A new congressional resolution introduced last night would make it easier to drill for oil and gas in certain National Parks.
Dave Hensley: Flickr/Creative Commons

Arizona Republican Representative Paul Gosar introduced a resolution in Congress that would weaken regulations limiting oil and natural gas drilling within national parks.

The move was noted in a release by the self-billed “independent, nonpartisan” National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) which breaks it down like this: The resolution, named H.J. Res. 46, would eliminate the 9B regulations passed by the Obama administration in November 2016 to oversee drilling on federal land. The so-called “split-estate” situation involves land acquired by the federal government for national parks where private owners maintain their rights to potentially lucrative minerals underground.

Rep. Gosar said in a statement that his resolution would eliminate regulations that he believes “jeopardize significant investments made by job creators, states and private companies.” He went on to note that “the federal government has no right to impose job-killing regulations for private and state-owned oil and natural gas wells not owned by the federal government, especially when these wells are already subject to existing environmental regulations.”

Some key split-estate parks include Everglades National Park in Florida, the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania, and the Grand Canyon National Recreation Area.

It’s also important to note that due to this particularly quirky legal status, there are a dozen national parks that currently have oil and gas operations—including Big Cypress National Park in Florida, with 20 active wells, and Lake Meredith Recreation Area in Texas, with 174 active wells.

According to Nicholas Lund, senior manager for the NPCA’s Landscape Conservation Program, the 9B regulations weren’t considered controversial when they were introduced, though industry groups such as The Independent Petroleum Association of America, Western Energy Alliance, and the American Exploration & Production Council filed comments in opposition to the proposed rule. The regulations brought wells under National Park Service regulations, removed a cap on financial bonding requirements for drillers (basically fronting a deposit to pay for any potential damages), and strengthened enforcement powers.

But Lund believes the resolution, which would roll back the safeguards found in the 9B rules, will threaten national park land and potentially damage surface lands and waters. And, due to the stipulations of the Congressional Review Act, if this resolution is passed, it will take Congressional approval to re-instate the regulations.

“It’s beyond me why the Congress would want to do this to national parks,” Lund says.

This table shows current drilling activity in National Parks.
National Parks Conservation Associations

We have reached out to Congressman Gosar’s office and will update the story once we receive comment. Gosar has previously spoken out against President Obama’s conservation actions, and in a release, said:

President Obama has exceeded the intent of the Antiquities Act more than any other president in the history of this country. To date, he has designated or expanded 27 national monuments. These unilateral declarations have locked up 548,744,157.31 million acres of land and water.

Gosar website From Congressman Gosar’s website

Update: Congressman Gosar has released a statement on the resolution.

“Extremist groups are stoking unsubstantiated claims that H.J.Res.46 will allow significantly more drilling in our National Parks. This is utterly false. According to the National Park Service, ‘There are currently 534 non-federal oil and gas operations in a total of 12 System units…Non-federal oil and gas rights exist within System units in situations where the United States does not own the oil and gas interest.’ H.J.Res.46 simply seeks to block a midnight Obama regulation implemented in November which unjustly targeted the livelihoods of these existing non-federal operations. Once this fundamentally-flawed Obama regulation is rolled back, these private and state-controlled operations will continue under the same environmental regulations that have worked well for the past 38 years.”

“Private property rights are a bedrock principle of America. However, the Park Service’s midnight oil and gas regulation jeopardizes significant investments made by job creators, states and private companies. The federal government has no right to impose job-killing regulations for private and state-owned oil and natural gas wells not owned by the federal government, especially when these wells are already subject to existing environmental regulations. Again, these are non-federal oil and gas rights we are debating. If allowed to stand, the Park Service’s new regulation will result in unconstitutional takings, permitting delays and job losses. Congress must block this rule as a result.”