Park Service Approves Plan to Increase Gas Drilling within National Seashore

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   November 22, 2002
Contact:   Randall Rasmussen, Acting Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association (office) 505-247-1221 and (cell phone) 505-280-7788
Fred Richardson, Communications Director, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, (office) 512-477-1729 and (cell phone) 512


Park Service Approves Plan to Increase Gas Drilling within National Seashore

Corpus Christi, TX - The National Park Service last week quietly approved the drilling of two new onshore gas wells within Padre Island National Seashore on the Texas Gulf Coast. Conservation groups charged that this action will threaten popular vacation beaches and nesting areas of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle, the rarest of all sea turtles.

"Energy development does not belong within our national seashores," says Randall Rasmussen, acting director of the National Parks Conservation Association's (NPCA) Southwest Regional Office. "People and marine life that use Padre Island will be put at great risk in a rush to sink wells because of Bush Administration policies designed to speed up drilling without careful consideration of its impact on the environment."

Congress established the 67-mile long Padre Island National Seashore in 1962, but specified that mineral rights must remain with private individuals and the State of Texas. Unfortunately, Congress never envisioned that the only access for oil and gas rigs and drilling equipment along most of the island would be the park's Gulf Coast beach.

Various Bush Administration directives during the past year have called for federal agencies to speed up oil, gas, and coal production on public lands and to review any regulations, including endangered species protections, which may slow drilling.

"The beach at Padre Island is starting to look more like the Jersey Turnpike than a national park," said Fred Richardson, communications director of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. "Most Americans believe that there are places that ought to be protected and kept for the public, but, unfortunately, the Bush Administration is out of touch with those values."

Presently, the national seashore has only two active gas wells. One of those wells, owned by BNP Petroleum Corporation of Corpus Christi, Texas, was drilled earlier this year and resulted in five months of heavy truck traffic along 15 miles of Gulf Coast beach. BNP is the company that will drill the two newly approved wells as part of a larger plan. In all, up to 18 wells could be drilled within Padre Island under BNP's plan, creating traffic on the Gulf Coast beach that could crush or kill sea turtles and their eggs.

Sea turtles are among the most endangered species in the world. The Kemp's ridley population includes only about 900 breeding females. Habitat loss and the taking of eggs for food has decimated the species, which now nests only along two beaches, Padre Island and one in Mexico, which is the primary nesting site. Padre Island is home to 11 endangered species.

Heavy truck traffic also will disrupt visitors to the national seashore, who camp, fish, and stroll along Padre's 67 miles of undeveloped barrier island. More than 660,000 people visited the seashore last year. The presence of gas wells also creates risks for polluting the waters of the national seashore.

"Drilling at Padre Island is not about decreasing our nation's dependency on foreign sources of energy," Rasmussen said. "Unlike oil, natural gas is something of which we have adequate supply to meet our demand, so this project is designed only to enrich energy executives at the expense of seashore visitors and endangered marine life."

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