Press Release Jun 7, 2017

Oil, Gas Leasing Threatens 7 Western National Parks

New report details dangers of development near park lands.

WASHINGTON – As the Trump Administration considers how to manage energy production on public lands, a new report by National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) highlights seven national parks endangered by potential encroaching energy development.

Out of Balance: National Parks and the Threat of Oil and Gas Development,” details the extent of possible energy development next to Dinosaur National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Carlsbad Caverns, Mesa Verde and Zion national parks.

National park visitation hit another record high in 2016, when more than 330 million people visited national parks, generating nearly $35 billion in economic activity and supporting over 318,000 jobs. However, improperly sited oil and gas leases, including on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands close to these national parks, puts that economic engine at risk.

Nearby oil and gas development can cause sound and light pollution, damage wilderness landscapes, mar viewscapes and disrupt park wildlife. In addition to harming the natural resources in the area, such impacts can negatively impact the visitor experience.

“The Southwest’s national parks are among the most visited in the country, drawing millions of people each year with their jaw-dropping scenic wonders and recreational opportunities and supporting strong tourism economies and local jobs,” said Nicholas Lund, NPCA Senior Manager for Landscape Conservation and author of the report. “Risks to these spectacular desert parks and tourism industries they support must be considered alongside proposals for oil and gas drilling right at these parks’ doorsteps.”

Of the examples included in the report, just outside Capitol Reef National Park, a geologic wonder in Utah that welcomed a record 1.06 million visitors last year, the BLM is considering leasing a dozen parcels along the eastern and western borders by the end of the year. The BLM may also soon lease lands to the northwest of Canyonlands National Park, which was responsible for over $47 million in visitor spending largely in local communities in 2016.

While some BLM field offices, which decide what parcels of land to lease, have established requirements for protecting park resources when leasing these lands, the practice has not been adopted throughout the agency.

Collaborative, local engagement can help protect these parks. On June 2, the BLM decided against leasing three parcels close to the border of Zion National Park – one of the most visited national parks in the country. The agency made its decision after receiving more than 40,000 public comments and hearing from local business leaders and residents.

The report concludes that the BLM has had success with a careful, thoughtful, and locally-driven approach over the last several years. Future recommendations outlined in the report support the continuation of this approach with planning and leasing processes that include:

  • Engaging with the Park Service to identify at-risk resources near potential leasing areas;
  • Consider economic impact of leasing on recreation economy in area;
  • Engage with local stakeholders; and
  • Conduct a collaborative planning process like a Master Leasing Plan that balances energy development with protecting park resources.

“In order to ensure mutual prosperity and to avoid conflicts, drilling companies, local communities, tribes, recreationists, conservationists and others need to come together early on to ensure leases are planned ‘smart from the start,’” said Lund. “This kind of collaborative, comprehensive process is a locally driven, time-tested way to balance responsible energy development on public lands with the protection of our national parks and the economies they support.”


About National Parks Conservation Association

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than one million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historic, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit