Energy: Does fracking threaten national parks?

Conservation report outlines steps to mitigate potential impacts

Oil and gas drilling near national parks could affect air and water quality in pristine, protected areas. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After years of watching federal agencies haphazardly issuing leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands near national parks, conservation advocates say it’s time for a more systematic approach.

With the Bureau of Land Management currently updating national guidelines, the National Parks Conservation Association has outlined potential threats to parks in a new report.

“Our national parks are America’s most treasured places, and we need to treat them carefully as we develop the nation’s natural gas and oil,” said NPCA Vice President for the Center for Park Research Jim Nations. “Our research revealed that some national parks are already in peril. Unless we take quick action, air, water, and wildlife will experience permanent harm in other national parks as well.”

At Glacier National Park, visitors to the high country can already see newly-drilled wells. Full implementation of proposed fossil fuel development could further impact the scenic vistas the park is known for. Read more about drilling around Glacier National Park here.

According to the NPCA, more drilling around Glacier National Park could degrade air quality and threaten wildlife by fragmenting habitat.

Similarly, at Grand Teton National Park, habitat fragmentation from oil and gas development — more than 50 miles from the park — has partially blocked pronghorn migration from the Upper Green River Valley near the park, and threatens the movement of other species like Greater Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer between the park and other habitat they need to survive.

There’s also evidence that intensive drilling in the Pinedale area south of Grand Teton is associated with regional ozone problems in Grand Teton’s gateway, with pollution recorded at levels that cause respiratory problems.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • BLM require that the identity of the chemicals be disclosed to the public before drilling begins, that all flowback waters be stored in closed-loop containers and treated before they are allowed to reenter public waters
  • The National Park Service receive the designation of formal “cooperating agency” under the National Environmental Protection Act when there is a reasonable likelihood that national park air, water, wildlife, or other resources will be affected by oil and gas activities on BLM land.
  • The industry provide and pay for a comprehensive water quality monitoring plan for all park waters that might potentially be impacted.
  • EPA implementation of a regulation to cut 95 percent of ozone and toxic emissions from natural gas wells developed through fracking, and take effect in 2015, take effect today and be expanded to cover existing and future wells

To view a full copy of the report, visit:


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