Tougher Standards for Drilling in National Parks

by Elizabeth Alford on November 8, 2016

The National Park Service (NPS) has updated 37 year old standards for how oil and natural gas drilling may occur on the land it owns.

Related: Fracking Fight Moves to National Parks

The updated ruling, which takes affect on December 6, 2016, enacts stronger protections for private lands within the national parks. Currently there are 42 park sites that have privately held oil, gas, and other mineral rights with a total of 319 wells under NPS regulations.

“We have a fundamental responsibility to conserve park resources and the values for which these parks are created for the enjoyment of future generations. The changes we made to this rule bring more than 300 previously exempt oil and gas operations in parks under NPS regulations. The rule clarifies the process for oil and gas development in the small group of parks where current operations exist, and for parks that may have to manage oil and gas operations in the future.” – NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis

The NPS regulations look to curb activities that might adversely impact the parks:

  • Surface water quality degradation from spills, storm water runoff, erosion, and sedimentation.
  • Soil and ground water contamination from existing drilling mud pits, poorly constructed wells, spills, and leaks
  • Air quality degradation from dust, natural gas flaring, hydrogen sulfide gas, and emissions from production operations and vehicles
  • Noise from seismic operations, blasting, construction, oil and gas drilling and production operations
  • Noise and human presence effects on wildlife behavior, breeding, and habitat utilization
  • Disruption of wildlife migration routes
  • Adverse effects on sensitive and endangered species
  • Viewshed intrusion by roads, traffic, drilling equipment, production equipment, pipelines, etc
  • Night sky intrusion from artificial lighting and gas flares
  • Disturbance to archeological and cultural resources from blasting associated with seismic exploration and road/site preparation, maintenance activities, or by spills
  • Visitor safety hazards from equipment, pressurized vessels and lines, presence of hydrogen sulfide gas, and leaking oil and gas that can create explosion and fire hazards


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