Oil and gas is booming across the country, from the shale oil fields of North Dakota to natural gas deposits in the Rockies to expansive shale gas fields of the northeastern Marcellus.
But the success of oil and gas development is not without risk. Today, fracking and drilling operations are encroaching on national parks throughout the West, endangering both the parks and the economic and cultural role they play. This is why my fellow former park rangers and I decided to create Park Rangers For Our Lands. Our goal is to raise awareness to the growing crisis that oil and gas fracking and drilling brings to the footsteps of America's national parks.
As park rangers, we have dedicated our professional lives to the protection of these iconic American landscapes. These parks have played a profound role in shaping who we are as a nation. Millions of people from across America and around the world visit our parks each year.
To see the dangers of reckless decisions about oil and gas drilling on our lands, you need only look at the recently proposed oil and gas leases threatening two iconic parks in western Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. Earlier in the year, Bureau of Land Management Colorado State Director Helen Hankins' office proposed oil and gas leases on thousands of acres around Dinosaur, including development just a mile from the visitor center. Her office also proposed oil and gas leases just to the east of Mesa Verde.
It was personally disappointing to see such disregard for Dinosaur National Monument. During my career, I served as acting superintendent of Dinosaur. The proposed leases would degrade air and water quality, increase industrial noise and traffic, impact the dark night skies, and threaten the park's economic value to local small business owners.
The story at Mesa Verde is not very different. Drilling on those leases would likely add to the already worsening air quality that, today, affects the scenic vistas and beauty experienced by park visitors and local residents. Wildlife populations in and around both parks could be impacted as their habitat and range become fragmented from multiple drilling sites.
Thanks to public outcry by local communities, businesses, and the National Park Service itself, Colorado BLM rightly withdrew the controversial proposals. Unfortunately, their office is already saying that the withdrawals were only temporary, and lands near Mesa Verde National Park could be offeredagain in late summer or fall of this year.
Park Rangers for Our Lands is urging the Colorado Bureau of Land Management and Dir. Hankins to take the balanced approach laid out in the Obama Administration's oil and gas leasing reforms set in motion back in 2010. These reforms were developed in response to widespread outcry over proposed oil and gas leases around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah. A key aspect of those reforms is the direction to develop a more comprehensive analysis and deeper understanding of the cultural and ecological values that could be impacted by oil and gas development particularly in areas near national parks.
Follow Ellis Richard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RangersAtLarge