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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Feds Want to Shut Off Oil|& Gas Lights Near Parks

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Park System has proposed updating 36-year-old regulations regarding oil and gas operations on its public lands. Monday's action follows on the heels of a federal judge's ruling at the end of September to delay a similar Bureau of Land Management action.

The NPS proposal includes rules for surface and groundwater contamination, fracking waste water disposal, disruption of wildlife, visitor hazards such as hyrogen sulfide gas, and views being spoiled by manmade items such as light pollution from operations' burning "excess" natural gas, among other subjects.

Under the rule, the 60 percent of operations previously exempt from NPS oil and gas rules because they were "grandfathered" in when the rules were written, would no longer be exempt.

Both agencies are under the umbrella of the Department of Interior. In mid-March, Interior's Secretary Sally Jewell announced the department's intentions to support the Obama Administration's ambitious clean energy and climate change reform agenda, and referenced both the recently stalled BLM action and the NPS proposed action.

"We will release a final rule related to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands. The rule will include measures to protect our nation's groundwater, requiring operators to construct sound wells, to disclose the chemicals they use, and to safely recover and handle fluids used in the process," she said of the BLM rule, then continued "I'm talking about places at the doorstep of Utah's national parks, North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park or the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Not only should we actively avoid damaging special or sensitive places, but we should also permanently protect some areas for their conservation values. Future generations of Americans deserve to enjoy those incredible places, just like we do,"

The NPS proposal would apply to 534 non-federal oil and gas operations on a total of 12 NPS sites, and would address issues such as surface contamination, leaks, spills, odors, noise, disruption of wildlife migration routes, adverse effects on sensitive species, archaeological damage from blasting, and visitor safety hazards such as hydrogen sulfide gas, and explosions and fires from leaking oil and gas. Specific regulations concerning fracking impacts to water quality and waste water disposal are included in the proposal. Also of concern are impacts to the visitor experience, such as "viewshed" intrusions by roads, traffic, pipelines and drilling, and night sky intrusion from artificial lights and gas flares.

"Oil rigs are visible from several parts of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and natural gas flaring has punctured what was once one of the darkest night skies in the entire park system. Evidence suggests that the concentrated drilling operations in the Pinedale area south of Grand Teton National Park are associated with regional ozone problems in Grand Teton's gateway, with pollution recorded at levels that cause respiratory problems," Nicholas Lund, manager of the National Parks Conservation Association's Landscape Conservation Program, said in the group's response to the proposal.

The BLM final rule, published shortly after Secretary Jewell's announcement, came under immediate fire from the oil and gas industry, as well as from the states of Wyoming, North Dakota and Colorado.

The legal issue cited in the Sept. 30 injunction by the U.S. District Court of Wyoming that delayed implementation of the BLM's rule revolves around the federal agency's authority to regulate these industries on state lands.

"We are pleased to see Judge Skavdahl agrees with our request to first hear the merits of our case before this final federal rule goes into effect. [The] decision is consistent with IPAA's position that BLM's efforts are not needed and that states are, and have for 60 years been, in the best position to safely regulate hydraulic fracturing," Independent Petroleum Association of America's President Barry Russell said in response to the ruling.

The NPS proposed rule closely follows the BLM regulation, but the parks agency took pains to emphasize the basis of its authority to do so, citing the NPS Organic Act, in which Congress mandated the agency "promote and regulate the use of the National Park System by means and measures that conform to the fundamental purpose of the system units, which purpose is to conserve the scenery, natural and historic objects, and wild life in the system units and to provide for the enjoyment of the scenery, natural and historic objects, and wild life in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations," including the authority to put forth regulations "necessary or proper for the use and management of system units," according to the action.

Comments on the proposal are due Dec. 28.

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