A Republican congressional candidate in North Dakota has suggested drilling for oil and natural gas beneath Theodore Roosevelt National Park. But then, Rick Berg is only the latest GOP candidate to cast eyes on a national park for energy exploration.
Two years ago Fred Thompson, then running for the Republican presidential nomination, thought it wouldn't be a terrible idea to drill for oil beneath Everglades National Park if the resources merited it. Mr. Thompson, whose campaign was short-lived, allowed that, "I don't think anybody really prefers to drill at all anywhere," before adding, however, that "(N)obody wants to see $100 oil, either."
And then, of course, just about two weeks ago the upstart Joe Miller, who defeated Lisa Murkowski for the U.S. Senate nomination in Alaska, dreamed about the federal government turning over its holdings in Alaska -- including the national parks there -- so Alaskans could mine them for what they're worth.
So, really, Mr. Berg is just catching on to this idea of throwing open park entrances to drilling rigs and roustabouts. The irony in his case, though, is that Theodore Roosevelt, though a Republican, was very much a conservationist when it came to natural resources.
"There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty unmarred." Theodore Roosevelt
Now, after Mr. Berg's comments to the Fargo Forum's editorial board -- “There’s a huge opportunity right now to take those mineral assets that are on the federal government’s balance sheet and shift them to Social Security” -- made the news, his staff quickly jumped in to qualify his statement.
"He never said we're going to put rigs up in a park; that's just ridiculous," Berg spokesman Tom Nelson told The Hill. "If there’s technology that would allow you to horizontally drill and it wouldn’t affect anything in the park, that would be something to talk about."
Apparently Mr. Nelson didn't hear the uproar when the Bush administration's Bureau of Land Management wanted to issue oil and gas leases near Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dinosaur National Monument in Utah late in 2008.
Nor is he apparently up on drilling technology. Horizontal drilling has been around for decades, and back in the 1980s such techniques were being eyed for drilling beneath the surface of Canaan Valley State Park in West Virginia.
But as the recent boom in the practice in the East to tap natural gas deposits in Marcellus shales has indicated, there can be problems with waste-water and groundwater impacts.
And, as analysts have concluded, horizontal drilling isn't necessarily light on the land if hydraulic fracturing is part of the equation to stimulate oil and gas flows.
Hydraulic fracturing requires 3 million to 8 million gallons of water per well. The water must be trucked in and stored on site, and the wastewater containing drill fluids, brines and heavy metals must be disposed of properly. A typical 3 million gallon hydrofrack produces 15,000 gallons of chemical waste, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
In Pennsylvania, this waste is stored on site in pits until trucks remove it. The storage ponds can produce noxious odors, harming neighbors’ use and enjoyment of their property. Disposal of the brine wastewater remains a problem. Spills are common.