What Do GOP Politicians Have Against Protecting National Park Landscapes?

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.


The GOP simply doesn't care about anything except ensuring healthy returns for their benefactors.

GOP: Gas Oil Plutonium

You are so right! Republicans would be drilling on the front lawn of the White House if they thought they would make more money for their oil industry friends! The have no respect for wilderness areas and wildlife as demonstrated by all their ideas.

Though I am no lover of recent GOP policy, I'm also no lover of the distance between the Right and Left in this country right now. That gap makes it difficult for reasonable discourse to occur and keeps good policy from implementation. The GOP has a history (as Kurt pointed out above... Thanks, Teddy!) of supporting conservation issues, including park issues. The parks belong to the nation, not just one political affiliation. It may be more constructive to woo the GOP back to its centrist, conservation roots than to blow fire at them for such unrealistic and obviously absurd ideas as the ones these politicians have thrown out.

I think sometimes the Right throws out these silly ideas just to have the Left over-react in an emotional way, giving them the opportunity to frame the debate as being about "cheap oil vs. environmentalism"... a gross oversimplification of a complex issue. I don't think Kurt's article above does this (over-react), but others do in political discourse, leaving little more than shrill screams in the air between the Right and the Left and no real policy to move forward.

The parks have historically been under attack from its borders. Now with helicopter tours and cloud seeding and horizontal drilling and water table pollution, they are under attack from above and below. There was a time when politicians LED THE WAY for the protection of our land. Now they seem to be vastly out of touch with the needs of our future American generations. I hope those in the GOP who know better will grab their balls and speak up against such foolish notions and bring their party back to a place they can be proud of.

Kurt, I hate to be a nitpicker, but in Teddy Roosevelt's quote above, you left the "un" off "unmarred". Without it, the quote reads entirley different.

Bogator, good eyes. I figured when you cut and paste, you don't have to double-check the quote.

That said, here's one that's more appropriate:

"We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation." Theodore Roosevelt

I think part of the problem is that many people who are not GOP as you label them do not want drilling ANYWHERE. So there is discussion about alternatives. I agree it does not make sense to go onto national park land to do so, but if people were not so against it ANYWHERE, those kinds of propositions would not come up.

I'm looking forward to the day when conservationist Republicans return to Congress. Back in the 1960s and 70s I saw them standing up for national parks and wilderness. Representative John P. Saylor (Republican of Pennsylvania) was an outstanding advocate for the parks. A group called Republicans for Environmental Protection is now laying the foundation for a resurgence.

George, the last GOP conservationist in Congress was killed off about seven months ago when he was run over by a huge tea bag outside his office. They were an endangered species, and now have been officially declared to be extinct.

I'm all for conservation, but the one thing that nobody really talks about is what is the best alternative to our energy needs? I don't pretend to have answers, but I understand that renewables forms of energy will not be enough in the near term (say 20-30 years) to make a significant in our energy needs. Since nobody wants to build nuclear plants, what options do we have? Conservation is great but will only go so far. It seems that we're stuck with importing more from around the world, which is basically akin to exporting our problems.

Drilling in national parks is definitely not appealling but is it better if the oil comes from some pristine par of Venezuela?

We *already* drill directionally for oil beneath [Theodore Roosevelt National Park (THRO)], from privately owned or leased lands around the park. As I understand it, these wells could suck THRO oil from a field even if they went straight down, so the NPS decided to allow more-efficient directional (diagonal) drilling and collect the royalties. Most of the rigs are hidden from view if you're inside the park, but you can't miss them around the boundaries.

Cell towers, I-94, airplanes, and many other things are visible from the heart of the backcountry. For what it's worth.

The price one pays for oil is determined by a global supply and global demand, not by how much oil is drilled under a National Park or Venezuela. Oil drilled in America does not stay in America. It goes right to the world market. There is no such thing as “our oil supply” The problem is oil. Not how and where we get it.

Random Walker, I disagree with your assessment. If all oil produced in the US goes on the world market, it would create additional exports, which would help our trade deficit, and de facto would reduce would reduce dependence on foreign oil. Figured that I'd point this out.

Like somebody said earlier, we got to be able to have some kind of middle ground between the "drill, baby drill" on one end, and the tree huggers on the other.

What a silly statement by "Barky." It is almost not worth the time to refute. These kind of generalizations don't hold water, and are easily disproved. For ex., John Warner has been a friend to preservation groups and the NPS. Lest we think that the Democrat Party has a monopoly on environmental issues, I remind you about an issue from 2001 involving the Homestake Mining Co., in SD. Homestake wanted to sell a mine but was concerned that if it did so, it could be held liable for environmental damages even years down the road. Congress agreed to relieve the company of any legal liability that it might have incurred for environmental damages done in digging gold from the Black Hills over the previous 125 years. The federal government (by provisions of the act) assumed liability for any environmental damage. Who was the person in Congress who pushed for the immunity so that this polluter could get off the hook to the tune of $30,000,000? U.S. Senator Tom Dascle. Now, Barky, this may come as a total shock to you, but Daschle is not an evil Republican but a Democrat. Imagine that!

Why can't CONSERVE-atives and CONSERVE-ationists get along? The common interest is clear!

We also musn't forget that former President Bill Clinton in his last days in office added millions of acres of western land to the Park Service (as I recall) that could have been tapped for oil. Therefore making the resources unavailable for use. Yosemite, my wife's and my favorite, Yellowstone, Zion, and many national lands deserve preservation for their beauty. But Clinton's land had no such value. It was just to make them inaccessible to anyone, visitors included, for anything. Which forces the question, "Why?"

Gary, are you thinking of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah? That basically took coal reserves out of play; I don't think there were any oil reserves.

That said, there are parts of the Staircase that are incredibly fascinating. Fossils of previously unknown dinosaur species have come from that part of Utah. Still, I'm not sure the monument needed to be as large as Clinton made it.

I've visited the area of Grand Staircase-Escalante over a period of 30 years, and it's worth the effort. Its magnificent back country of canyons is being discovered by more visitors each year. A nonprofit group based in Kanab, the Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, is building local support for the monument and its scientific, interpretive and educational programs.

I'll second what Kurt & George say about Grand Staircase Escalante having great value. I also question Gary's assertion that it's inaccessible to anyone, visitors included, for anything. In my experience, its backcountry is more accessible than the backcountry of Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Zion: it doesn't have the capacity limits of Yosemite or Zion, nor the seasonal bear closures of Yellowstone.

I somewhat disagree with Kurt's statement that Grand Staircase Escalante might not have needed to be so large. Much of the beauty is the vastness. Parts of it need strong wilderness protections, much of it needs other, less restrictive protections. Designation of a large monument, with differentiated land management (by BLM), is more likely to produce that result than a smaller monument with uniform strong protection, and hoping that BLM could manage the rest of the lands with any protection.

It's highly annoying when Republicans name-drop Teddy Roosevelt as one of their own when they're accused of disrespecting nature.

Can you imagine T.R. trying to push a wilderness bill through a Republican-dominated Congress today? He had to make "sneaky" use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect much of the land he managed to save. Such a thing could not get done today, at least for the vast tracts that Roosevelt set aside. It was a lucky fluke that he came along when he did. Others in office around his time never had that vision.

Today's Republicans treat wilderness like a cheap hooker to take temporary pleasure from, then cast aside. They are a soulless, evil lot.

As another poster mentioned, you need to fix that T.R. quote ("all marred" should be "unmarred" or whatever it really was). It looks like that typo was copied amongst other sites, including a NPS page.