Washington, DC — 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.
On 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.
In 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.
According 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)