Theodore Roosevelt was our greatest conservation president. President Roosevelt’s boundless vision and determination resulted in a system of national parks that is the envy of the world, and has been called “America’s Best Idea.” Ironically, his namesake national park, which includes his North Dakota homestead, is currently facing a threat that could permanently degrade a patch of land that was supposed to be protected in perpetuity.
Across the nation, an oil and gas boom is taking place, largely through the utilization of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to extract oil and natural gas from shale formations buried deep beneath the surface. Wells have sprouted up on the outskirts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and many more are planned there and across the nation, including near other National Park Service-managed lands like Glacier National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. But with this rapid boom, the negative impacts of large scale oil and gas development on national parks has largely been ignored. That is why the National Parks Conservation Association has released a new report on how fracking for oil and gas near national parks is already impacting these treasured places, and how impacts could increase unless we act now.
National Parks and Hydraulic Fracturing: Balancing Energy Needs, Nature, and America’s National Heritage is a comprehensive report on what large-scale oil and gas development adjacent to national parks does and could mean for these parks and the people who love and visit them. It details the known and suspected impacts of fracking on the environment, including harm to air, water, and wildlife—the things that make our national parks so special. It also provides five case studies that analyze national parks that are already in the middle of the oil and gas fracking boom: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Glacier National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and Obed Wild and Scenic River.
But the impact of fracking is not limited to these parks. Shale basins with potential for gas and oil development underlie more than 100 national parks all across the country. Based on what NPCA discovered through this report, it is clear that immediate steps must be taken to protect our national parks from fracking, including stronger regulation of air and water pollution, and better siting practices that engage the National Park Service before well permits are issued near parks.
National parks are a legacy that was given to us, and one which we are charged with safely handing to generations that follow. We must not allow large-scale oil and gas field development via fracking to pollute and deplete park watersheds, foul park air quality, fragment habitat for park wildlife, or create excessive industrial sound and light pollution near our parks. In order to avoid these impacts, we need decisive action now by the Obama Administration and federal regulators to ensure that fracking on federal lands does not spoil our national parks for today’s visitors and those who follow.
Only with sensible controls on fracking near national parks can we ensure they remain healthy and beautiful for generations to come.
For more information on the direct impact of fracking on these parks, visit NPCA’s website. Also see the informative new video below released earlier this month by the Center for American Progress on how fracking specifically affects Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
About the author
Tom Kiernan Former president of NPCA