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New Report Highlights Threats to National Parks from Fracking

Matthew McFeeley

Posted April 25, 2013

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A new report released today by the National Parks Conservation Association details the growing dangers that hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas poses to some of America’s most treasured and iconic places. 

Fracking is increasingly happening just outside the borders of national parks.  But air and water pollution do not respect park boundaries, and the industrialization of the landscape around these parks threatens the clean air and water inside them. 

Oil and gas drilling and fracking are a major source of ground-level ozone pollution, a chief component of smog. Rural areas experiencing spikes in drilling have seen their ozone levels worsen beyond those of major cities like Los Angeles. Bringing this type of pollution to national parks means iconic vistas obscured by haze and health threats to hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Likewise, fracking activities pose threats to water quality.  Fracking chemicals stored on the wellpads are often toxic and oil and gas wastes like the “produced water” that comes out of the well along with the oil and gas can contain a nasty cocktail of carcinogens, heavy metals, and radioactive elements.  Spills, leaks, and blowouts have all contaminated nearby waters.  New wellpads and roads also fragment the habitat of species who roam beyond the borders of the parks and shrink these species’ range further as the animals avoid the noise of heavy machinery and lights that accompany round-the-clock operations. 

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the rugged and picturesque North Dakota badlands that shaped the would-be President and convinced him of the enduring value of conserving our nation’s natural treasures.  Unfortunately, the National Park that bears his name is increasingly threatened by a proliferation of drilling and fracking around it. (See a map from the NPCA report, showing the exponential increase in drilling sites near the park, below, and for a great video on the threats to the park, go here.) 


The most obvious reason many of us visit National Parks is to experience nature’s untrammeled beauty – to seize the rare opportunity to retreat from the hubbub of daily life for a quiet hike or a night under the quilt of stars you can only see far from city lights.  As oil rigs and gas flares spring up at the edges of our parks and tanker trucks rumble down the roads to service them, they threaten these experiences. 

The report contains a number of commonsense reforms that would go a long way to addressing these problems.  These reforms include:

  • The federal government owns many of the lands on the borders of parks.  When the federal government considers allowing drilling and fracking at the edges of our Parks, it should formally consult with the Park Service and take the many effects on parks and park visitors into account in its environmental analysis.
  • Where water is withdrawn from aquifers, streams, and rivers for use in fracking, state and federal agencies must ensure that water levels in national parks are not affected.
  • The Bureau of Land Management should improve on its proposed rules for fracking where the government owns the rights to the oil and gas. 
  • Available technologies to limit air pollution from fracking, some of which are not required until 2015 under EPA rules, should be implemented more broadly and sooner, especially where the airshed of a national park will be affected.  
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