Photo of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks by Donna Kohut
In a bucolic meadow, you can hear a babbling brook in the distance. You consider yourself lucky because your water supply is running low. You continue to hike along, bathing in the sunlight and losing yourself in the chorus of songbirds in the trees. But as you close in on the brook, the birds quiet and the grasses turn brown. You detect a faint chemical smell in the air. When you arrive at the water’s edge, you do not recognize what you see – there is an oily film that covers the small banks and the water is a murky brown color. The slow moving water is has a rainbow-colored sheen to it in the afternoon sun.
This could be the future for American hikers. Our public lands are being attacked by the oil and natural gas industries. They are coming for our national parks, national forests, and public wilderness in search of profit. If we back down, there will be nothing sacred left to pass along to future generations but industrial wastelands.
On February 19, 2013 the Bureau of Land Management is auctioning off energy leases on 80,000 acres in southeast Utah, including some very close to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Drilling and fracking could damage the magical red rock landscape, potentially destroying the health and economy of those living in and around Moab. Parcels up for lease are located near the parks’ border and along the Glen Canyon aquifer, which the city relies on for its drinking water. Thousands of residents and even more tourists would feel the impact from the development of this area of the desert.
Moab is not alone. A total of 3 national parks exist in the Marcellus Shale region – that East Coast area plagued by natural gas development. The situation is so disconcerting that potential development of natural gas in Delaware River Watershed prompted HydroQuest and Mid-Hudson Geosciences – two professional hydrogeologic consulting firms – to write a letter to New York politicians pleading for a permanent ban on fracking the state of New York. “The only viable means of protecting our groundwater and surface water resources now and for future generations is to immediately institute a New York State and Delaware River watershed ban on hydraulic fracturing,” the letter read. If the consequences of hydraulic fracturing are so potentially destructive, and the purpose of national parks are to protect public lands, how can this happen? This must be an isolated incident, a structural oversight, right?
Wrong. Currently, there are 12 hydraulic fracturing sites in national parks across the country. And there is the potential for that number to multiply.
So how does this happen? According to a report published this month from the Center for American Progress, it involves some deregulation and a few legal loopholes that blur the issue of land ownership: “existing mineral rights are either inholdings—where an individual owns a piece of property completely surrounded by a park unit—or are non-federal subsurface mineral rights, which are frequently referred to as “split estate” where the federal government owns the surface of the land and a private entity owns the right to access the minerals below the ground. Private individuals or companies owned these mineral rights before the parks were created and have the legal right to access them.” (http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2012/09/12/37152/drilling-could-threaten-our-national-parks/) That is correct – the government and the People may own the surface land, but a private company may own what lies beneath and thus, have the right to destroy what is above. All in the name of profit. This blurry situation currently puts 40 more parks in danger of being fracked, including the Grand Tetons, Dinosaur, Mammoth Cave, and the Everglades.
The CAP report warns that there is an increasing political trend towards allowing states to decide how public lands are used, rather than guaranteeing their protection by the federal government. This sort of deregulation poses a serious danger to the lands that our nation has set aside to preserve important cultural, historical, and environmental sites. It also may leave citizens wondering what power the federal government really has – if it cannot protect the land we all own in common, what power does it have to protect the environment?
If that future seems unpleasant to you, add momentum to the fracktivist movement by signing this petition.