National Park Service to update oil and gas drilling rules

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A fracking boom near national parks has already degraded air quality and fragmented wildlife habitat around some of the country’s most cherished public lands. @bberwyn photo.

Agency acknowledges potential for adverse impacts to park values

Staff Report

The recent surge in fossil fuel exploitation on public lands near national parks has raised serious concerns about air quality, wildlife and scenic values — to the point that the National Parks Conservation Association outlined threats in a report a few years ago.

Now, the National Park Service wants to tackle some of the concerns by updating drilling regulations.  The proposal would revise current rules that are 36 years old, predating the modern fracking area. The agency hopes the update will give the fossil fuel industry more certainty, improve the agency’s ability to protect park resources and the values for which the parks were set aside, and protect visitors from potentially adverse impacts associated with fossil fuel development.Specifically, the new rule will aim to bring existing oil and gas operations up to NPS standards to protect water quality and water quantity, air quality, night skies and natural sounds, visitor and employee health and safety, fish, wildlife and habitat and meet spill protection and reclamation standards.

“We have a fundamental responsibility to conserve park resources for the enjoyment of future generations and the changes we’ve proposed will clarify the process for oil and gas development in the small group of parks where current operations exist, and for parks who may manage operations in the future,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a press release.

The new rule will soon be published in the Federal Register, triggering a 60-day public comment period.

Currently, there are oil and gas operations in 12 of the 408 parks in the National Park System, and about 60 percent of those operations are exempt from NPS regulations. The proposed rule would apply NPS regulations to operations that are currently exempt and any future oil and gas operations in the National Park System.

The proposal seeks to recover the full cost of reclamation resulting from oil and gas development and includes updates to make the regulations consistent with existing policies and practices. The proposal would also update the format to improve clarity and simplify the application and compliance for oil and gas operators and NPS employees.

Non-federal oil and gas rights exist within the National Park System in situations where the United States does not own the oil and gas interest, either because the United States acquired the property from a grantor that did not own the oil and gas interest, or the United States acquired the property from a grantor that reserved the oil and gas interest. The Energy and Minerals Branch of the Geologic Resources Division within the NPS’ Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate assists park staff in overseeing oil and gas operations in parks.

The NPS prepared a cost-benefit analysis for this rulemaking.  The NPS estimates that the annualized cost to operators under the proposed rule is approximately $1,650 per well. Cost factors in the proposed rule include bringing previously exempt operations into compliance with NPS standards, ensuring well site reclamation by updating financial assurance requirements, compensating for the use of federal lands outside an operator’s oil and gas right, and recovering permitting costs.

The NPS will publish the proposed rule and Draft Environmental Impact Statement in the Federal Register soon, and the public will have 60 days to review the documents and submit comments.

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One thought on “National Park Service to update oil and gas drilling rules

  1. Thank you for doing this important reporting. Whoever we elect to Congress will have a big impact on what goes on with our National Parks. We need to be reminded to vote carefully.

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