Oil and gas development threatens the future of national parks. NPCA's new report, “Spoiled Parks,” highlights what we stand to lose in the face of the current administration's energy policies.
NPCA examined the national parks most affected by oil and gas development across the contiguous United States, grouping them into four major themes: cultural resources, local economies, wildlife and public health. Here are the 12 parks most at risk.
Leasing Our Legacy: Cultural Resources Under Threat
1. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
This park sits within the San Juan Basin, a geologic area rich in fossil fuel resources. The oil and gas industry has heavily developed the region, scarring the landscape with tens of thousands of oil and gas wells and roads carrying trucks and heavy equipment. Gas flares light up the dark night skies, and pollution threatens the health of Native American communities that have lived in the area for centuries.
2. Hovenweep National Monument, Colorado and Utah
The Trump administration reduced the size of the neighboring Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 85% and opened the previously protected landscape to mineral, oil and gas development. A new management plan for Bears Ears jeopardizes everything the monument was originally created to protect, including sacred landscapes and priceless cultural resources, while leaving lands removed from the monument open to development. The administration is now leasing heavily in the region despite the protests of tribes, archaeologists, nearby communities and conservation groups, affecting nearby lands, including Hovenweep.
3. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The area surrounding Mesa Verde has long been targeted by the oil and gas industry. A 2015 plan for the area includes 1,000 new oil and gas wells surrounding the park, sparking concern among community groups. The Bureau of Land Management has leased 80% of the lands surrounding nearby Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and the landscape has been scarred by roads, well pads, storage tanks and pipelines.
4. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
This park sits atop the Bakken Formation, which contains enormous oil and gas reserves. To date, 90% of the Little Missouri National Grassland, which fully surrounds the park, has already been leased for oil and gas development. This development has brought large infrastructure to the doorstep of the park and nearby communities. Visitors can see flares from oil and gas operations from many locations within the park.
Paying the Price: Local Economies Under Threat
5. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Recent advances in drilling technology have brought renewed industry attention to aging oil and gas fields in southern Utah. Lease sales, drilling, light and air pollution, industrial traffic, and climate change all threaten the parks and visitor experience. The Trump administration halted an ongoing, stakeholder-driven process that would have provided protections to the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands, which contains some of the oldest and most important rock art in North America. In 2018, the administration offered 200,000 acres for lease within this region, further threatening the park.
6. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
In 2018, the Bureau of Land Management announced the sale of a series of lease parcels covering more than 18,000 acres on the eastern side of the park. Due to strong opposition from the community and environmental groups, the bureau deferred these leases. However, these deferrals are temporary, and the leases could soon be offered again.
7. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Air pollution from drilling activities threatens the clean air and healthy ecosystems that draw visitors to the region. The Bureau of Land Management has offered leases near the park’s western entrance. And just east of the park is Weld County, home to a dramatic boom in oil and gas production. This development has caused the park to fall out of compliance with standards set under the Clean Air Act.
Wells in the Wild: Wildlife Under Threat
8. Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
Most of the oil and gas beneath this preserve is privately owned by a family that has leased the mineral rights to a Texas-based oil company. The company has been driving 33-ton trucks and other equipment through wetlands in the preserve to hunt for oil, damaging one of the last refuges for the critically endangered Florida panther. This exploration will ultimately cover around 360 square miles, or one-third, of the preserve. This oil exploration is the single most damaging energy development project happening inside national park boundaries anywhere in the country.
9. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Over the past decade, the mule deer population in Wyoming has declined significantly due in part to habitat loss associated with energy development. Current estimates show mule deer numbers 46% below the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s recommendations for a healthy population, yet the administration continues to sacrifice wildlife needs in favor of oil and gas interests. In 2018, the Department of the Interior leased 1.2 million acres of pronghorn and mule deer winter habitat and migration corridors in Wyoming to oil and gas development.
Contaminating Communities: Public Health Under Threat
10. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
This park sits at the convergence of the Delaware and Permian Basins, one of the nation’s most active oil and gas regions. The skyrocketing pace of development in the region has already produced tremendous threats to the community. In January 2019 alone, operators in the Permian Basin in New Mexico flared or vented more than 1.9 billion cubic feet of methane. This venting and flaring also releases hydrogen sulfide, benzene, toluene and other volatile organic compounds that are hazardous to human health.
11. Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah
This monument is part of a dynamic rural landscape where oil and gas have long been present. Year after year, the Uinta Basin reports serious air quality issues. Oil and gas operations are the largest source of air and climate pollution in the Uinta Basin, plaguing this once-pristine region with air pollution comparable with that of densely populated cities like Los Angeles and Denver. Elevated levels of ozone pollution endanger public health, causing asthma attacks, cardiovascular disease and premature death. It’s particularly dangerous for vulnerable populations, including children, seniors and people with respiratory conditions.
12. Sequoia National Park, California
The massive footprint of the oil and gas industry near this park, along with the smog from other sources within the Central Valley, has led to some of the poorest air quality in the entire nation. In 2018, Sequoia had unhealthy air for most park visitors to breathe for more than two months of the year. Communities of California’s Central Valley, particularly Latino communities, bear the brunt of this unhealthy air quality.
For more information, read NPCA’s “Spoiled Parks” report.
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- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Canyonlands National Park
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park
- Dinosaur National Monument
- Grand Teton National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
- Hovenweep National Monument
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park