The National Parks Conservation Association recently released a report, “Avoiding a Risky Gamble with America’s National Parks,” outlining in disturbing detail the economic and environmental risks of allocating up to 2.5 million acres of public lands in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado for commercial leases for oil shale and tar sands development, which is currently being considered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
This NPCA report comes as the BLM is concluding a 90-day public comment period for a new Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), revising a controversial decision made during the final weeks of the Bush administration to allow commercial-scale development of oil shale and tar sands on close to 2.5 million acres of public land. In February 2011, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar rescinded that decision and launched a new public review process to better evaluate the risks that commercial oil shale and tar sands development could have on the region’s prized national parks as well as land, water, wildlife, and local communities.
When the BLM issues its final record of decision in December 2012, the agency will be choosing from among six development alternatives, which range from allowing leases on close to 2.5 million acres of public land around our parks to pursuing more limited commercial leasing schemes. The NPCA report found that a more balanced approach focused on research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) projects would pose the least threat to air quality, water supplies, local economies, and the national parks.
Specifically, the report noted that aggressive development would likely result in the following:
- Threaten national treasures and public lands. National Parks Conservation Association has identified eight parks that are most at risk:
- Dinosaur National Monument, Black Canyon National Park, and Colorado National Monument in Colorado;
- Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming; and
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks in Utah.
- Endanger limited water supplies. Producing one barrel of oil from shale or tar sands using current technology could require between one to five barrels (42 to 210 gallons) of water, making access to water a crucial element to new energy development. In Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, water is already scare and subject to numerous demands from development, agriculture, and power generation.
- Encourage high-risk energy industrialization in the West. Until now, oil shale extraction has been restricted to a few experimental leases on public and private lands as companies attempt to make the process economically viable. Letting it spread across 2 million acres would set a new precedent with uncertain results.
- Risk jobs and local economies. Public lands like national parks, national monuments, and recreation areas are major economic drivers in the West; they also create jobs. In 2010, national park visitation generated $612 million in local spending in Utah, $610 million in Wyoming, and almost $300 million in Colorado, according to National Park Service statistics. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the recreation economy:
- Supports 65,000 jobs in Utah, and pumps $5.8 billion into the state’s economy;
- Generates $4.4 billion of economic spending, sustains 52,000 jobs and represents 17 percent of all the retail sales and services produced in Wyoming; and
- Racks up $10 billion in benefits and more than 100,000 jobs in Colorado.