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Congressman Would Open More National Parks To Drilling


There are some units of the National Park System that allow oil and gas drilling, but very few. And that's wrong, believes a congressman from Texas.

Republican Rep. Pete Olson said there are energy reserves scattered across the country that can't be tapped because they lie within the National Park System.

"Guys on the West Coast ... west of the Mississippi, they know they've got oil and gas under the land that they can't touch because it's on a national park or some sort of federal land," he told Platts, a media outlet that covers the energy sector.

Energy development already exists at places such as Alibates Flint Quarries National MonumentAztec Ruins National MonumentBig Cypress National PreserveBig Thicket National PreserveBig South Fork National River and Recreation AreaCuyahoga Valley National ParkFort Union Trading Post National Historic SiteGauley River National Recreation AreaLake Meredith National Recreation AreaNew River Gorge National RiverObed Wild and Scenic RiverPadre Island National Seashore, and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

Rep. Olson, who made his comments while attending the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners annual convention, believes companies can safely develop oil and gas resources on National Park System landscapes.

"Working with the parks system, without destroying the parks' value, we can do both. We've proven that we can do that here in Texas," he said.


A Republican Congressman telling a room of Texas oil and gas producers that drilling can be done safely in national parks. A cultural cliche that is just about cartoonish by now.

I think I heard an echo of "I'll respect you in the morning".

According to the NPS website, The Nature Conservancy re-acquired the mineral rights at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. This TNC publication indicates that the rights were acquired by trading the mineral rights from another piece of land with existing gas wells. I guess that is the energy development there.

Don't be fooled folks: I was born and live in Texas and Rep. Olson's statement that "We've proven that we can do that here in Texas" is true - proven pollution; proven road, land and waterway destruction; proven toothless enforcement of any environmental standards; proven disregard for local community standards; proven abuse of soil, air and water throughout Texas. The Texas Railroad Commission (which oversees petroleum exploration) has one job - protect the interests of the petroleum industry. Be fore-warned!

Chad, could you provide some recent examples?

"Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays" ~ Aldo Leopold

Perhaps a good national policy question should be whether there's a compelling need to consider more drilling in NPS areas at this time? A DOI report from 2012 says 70% of offshore acres and 56% of onshore acres of public lands already under lease are "idle." Industry sources blame part of that on the length of time required for permits, seismic testing, etc., so a real-world number is probably somewhat less than the DOI report says. Even so, there's a lot of public land (over 20 million onshore acres) already under lease, waiting for development.

Acquaintances of mine in the oil business tell me a major reason there's not more drilling is the shortage of drilling rigs. I'm aware of one tract of less than 500 acres in Texas that has netted over $600k in lease payments to the owners over the past 4 years, so that oil company obviously believes there must be some oil or gas there.... but no drilling has occurred. The landowner was told no rigs are available.

Ongoing oil booms in places like the Dakotas already have existing rigs at work, and existing leases sitting idle due to lack of rigs...or on some cases, while producers sit by, hoping for higher prices. Due to the repeating boom and bust cycles that have occurred in the industry for decades, there just doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in big investment in a lot of new rigs.

Meanwhile, there's numerous reports such as this one: "A glut of shale oil in fields from Texas to North Dakota is forcing producers to find ways around the U.S.’s three-decade-old ban on crude exports in order to seek higher prices in foreign markets." Or this one, from the Wall Street Journal: "The U.S. Gulf Coast—home to the world's largest concentration of petroleum refineries—is suddenly awash in crude oil."

So....according to DOI, over 50 million acres of public land both on and offshore already under lease, but not yet utilized; not enough drilling rigs available to handle existing leases on both public and private land; and a "glut" of domestic crude production from existing sources.

That being the case, perhaps someone can explain any reason to consider opening any NPS areas to additional leasing and potential development. At least for that Texas congressman, the answer probably lies in the above quote: the industry is looking for "higher prices in foreign markets."

Sorry, but higher profits for the industry aren't justification to apply the  "drill, baby, drill" mentality to our national parks.


Absolutely agreed, Jim.

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