Oil Wells in National Parks

This is part one of our series on Our Public Land Under President DT and the GOP


I took the pictures that aren’t credited to someone else.

We can’t all be experts on every outrage that’s going to come along. After the November Calamity we had a meeting here at Helytimes and decided our beat would be Our Public Land.

up in the national forest

up in the national forest

The land owned by the US government in the form of national parks, national forests, national monuments, and much more.


This land is special to us, our heritage, we owe it to our children to leave it to them undestroyed, un-shat upon.

Federal land ownership is a complex issue.  Our Spotlight team has been deep-diving on the topic.  Many aspects deserve some careful exploration.

source: USGS

Map of federally owned land.  Source: USGS

For example, maybe the federal government should return some Bureau of Land Management land to the state of Utah.

And who will follow Jonathan Jarvis as head of the NPS?

There are even areas where conservationists can find common cause with President Trump.  Even use the issue to drive a wedge between him and the GOP congress.

We’ll be discussing that in Part 2 and 3.  First up is the most disgusting matter of:

HJ Res 46

A sneaky little bill:


Introduced by this man:

Arizona’s Paul Gosar.  Noted for boycotting the Pope’s visit to Congress and then milking it for fundraising purposes, among other low deeds.  The Washington Post has a somewhat less flattering photo of him:


Now listen, to his credit, Gosar was the Arizona Dental Association’s Dentist of the Year in 2001, which is cool.  Credit where it’s due.

However with his hopefully limited time in Washington, he’s spending some of it loosening rules for oil and gas drilling in National Park Service land.

This is a complicated issue.  Here’s the Washington Post’s Daryl Fears on the subject:

But his latest move came as a surprise to many. Gosar submitted a resolution Monday that threatens to repeal the National Park Service’s authority to manage private drilling for oil, gas and minerals at 40 national parks, according to the National Parks Conservation Association. Under what are known as the 9B rules, the Park Service, which controls the surface of natural parks, can decline drilling rights to parties that own resources beneath the surface if it determines that the operation would be an environmental threat.

There already are some drilling concessions in national parkland.  Here’s some info from Curbed:

The so-called “split-estate” situation involves land acquired by the federal government for national parks where private owners maintain their rights to potentially lucrative minerals underground…

Some key split-estate parks include Everglades National Park in Florida, the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania, and the Grand Canyon National Recreation Area.

It’s also important to note that due to this particularly quirky legal status, there are a dozen national parks that currently have oil and gas operations—including Big Cypress National Park in Florida, with 20 active wells, and Lake Meredith Recreation Area in Texas, with 174 active wells.

Back to Mr. Fears at the Post:

Gosar called claims that he’s trying to open the parks to more drilling “utterly false.” His resolution “simply seeks to block a midnight Obama [administration] regulation implemented in November” that he said targets the livelihoods of existing drilling operations in national parks.

The lawmaker was referring to an update to the 9B rules drafted by the Park Service a week before Trump was elected in November. At that time, then-Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis bemoaned that 60 percent of drilling operations allowed in parks were exempt from the regulations.

Jarvis also said a cap on financial assurance that went toward cleaning up any mess caused by drilling operations, $200,000, was inadequate to cover the true cost to restore the land. Finally, the Park Service had no authority to require compensation when operations strayed outside the boundaries of where they were limited to operating.

The park service eliminated the exemptions, removed the cap on financial assurance and authorized compensation to taxpayers when operations went outside their boundaries.

Hey Coastal Elite, what the hell do you know about Arizona’s need for more drilling?

A fair question.  Federal bureaucracies can be annoying as hell.  What if you owned mineral rights in an area that then became a national preserve?  Maybe Paul Gosar DDS knows more about this than you.

Well, interestingly, none of the drilling in national parklands appears to be in Arizona at all.

So, my guess is Rep. Gosar anticipates some expansion of drilling.

If you want to get the facts as Rep. Paul Gosar, DDS sees them, you can do so here.  You will find language like this:

Private property rights are a bedrock principle of America. However, the Park Service’s midnight oil and gas regulation jeopardizes significant investments made by job creators, states and private companies. The federal government has no right to impose job-killing regulations for private and state-owned oil and natural gas wells not owned by the federal government, especially when these wells are already subject to existing environmental regulations.

He further quotes an objection filed by the state of Utah:

The proposed 180 day timeframe for oil and gas permits is completely unacceptable. The proposed change to Section 9.104 would lengthen the timeframe for the NPS to reach a final decision on a future oil and gas permit application, from 60 days to 180 days, plus allowances for an extension if the NPS determines that it needs more time. Six months for a permit decision by the NPS is an exorbitant length of time that creates unnecessary delays in industry operations.

The National Park Service’s side of the story

How much oil, gas and mineral extraction should there be in the national parks and national preserves?  Me, I’m ok with zero.  Since there’s some already, I’m with former National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis:


Here’s what Jarvis had to say back in November 2016 when the rule adjustments were made:

Oil and gas drilling is rare on NPS land and is limited to areas where a private or state landowner controls mineral rights. Drilling only happens in 12 of the 413 national parks.

“We have a fundamental responsibility to conserve park resources and the values for which these parks are created for the enjoyment of future generations,” NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a statement.

“The changes we made to this rule bring more than 300 previously exempt oil and gas operations in parks under NPS regulations,” he said. “The rule clarifies the process for oil and gas development in the small group of parks where current operations exist, and for parks that may have to manage oil and gas operations in the future.”

The rule had not been updated in 37 years.

The update brings 319 wells under NPS regulations, removes a cap on financial bonding requirements for drillers and strengthens enforcement powers.


Let’s hear a strong take from the National Parks Conservation Association:

House Moves to Encourage Drilling in National Parks


Well, let’s be reasonable here, the NPCA is putting a slightly hyperbolic spin on the situation.

The National Park Conservation Association is one of the “extremist groups” referred to on Congressman Gosar’s Twitter:


(Why did this knucklehead quote and share their negative tweet about him?)

I think, though, that even Rep. Paul Gosar, DDS, would have a hard time calling The Coalition to Protect The National Parks an extremist group.


These are all former Park Service employees.  Here is their quite reasoned take on the changes to the rules that Gosar wants to undo:

  • NPS has documented 26 instances of surface contamination and water quality degradation from spills, storm water runoff, erosion, and sedimentation;

  • Forty-seven cases of oil and ground water contamination have been found from existing drilling mud pits, poorly constructed wells, pump jack leaks, operations and maintenance spills, and tank battery leaks;

  • Many sites cause air quality degradation from dust, natural gas flaring, hydrogen sulfide gas, and emissions from production operations and vehicles, and NPS inspections have documented 14 instances of notable odors emanating from the wellhead;

  • Increased human presence and noise from seismic operations, blasting, construction, drilling and production operations effect wildlife behavior, breeding, and habitat utilization, and negatively impact the visitor experience;

  • Adverse effects on sensitive and endangered species. NPS site inspections have documented 15 sites with sensitive species or habitat;

  • Disturbance to archeological and cultural resources from blasting associated with seismic exploration and road/site preparation, maintenance activities, or by spills; and

  • Visitor safety hazards from equipment, pressurized vessels and lines, presence of hydrogen sulfide gas, and leaking oil and gas that can create explosion and fire hazards. Through site inspections the NPS has documented 62 instances of visitor safety hazards.

Another critical improvement is the NPS proposal to eliminate the current bonding (financial assurances) limit of $200,000 per operator per unit. Currently, in the case of an inadequate bond amount, the only NPS recourse is a civil suit to recover additional reclamation costs – a difficult, costly, and time consuming process. In cases where the operator is insolvent or can’t be located the cost of well plugging and site reclamation fall on the NPS and American taxpayers.


from the NPS instagram

from the NPS instagram

Our national parklands are terrific.  Any effort to mess with them must be met immediately and aggressively.  Why Congressman Gosar is so passionate about making oil, gas and mineral exploitation easier in these lands is no doubt an intriguing story.

What to do

  • Call Paul Gosar and tell him he may be a fine dentist but he’s a seemingly pisspoor steward of our national treasures.  Here’s a possible script:

Hi, I’m calling because I’m an American citizen, and I’m disappointed with HJ Resolution 46, introduced by the Congressman.  

[they’ll ask you where you’re from — no doubt many Helytimes Readers live in Arizona’s Fourth Congressional District.  But if you don’t, just mention that you’re an American citizen and a frequent visitor to our national parkland, so this affects you too.]

It’s a disgrace to weaken protections for these treasured national landscapes.  And a strange way for the Congressman to spend his time.  I’ll be paying attention to this issue, and I’ll be paying attention to the Congressman’s next election.  Thank you, and goodbye.

(202) 225-2315

to call him in Washington.

(928) 445-1683

in Prescott, AZ


  • Donate to the Coalition to Protect the National Parks — a gentler, less aggressive, more experienced squad.
  • If your own Congressman is on the House Committee On Natural Resources, give them a call.  Tell them you’ll be keeping an eye on HJ Res 46.
  • Let me know if I got something wrong!  If you are an expert on the 9B rules!  If you are an independent petroleum driller!  If you are Rep. Paul Gosar and you feel slandered!
  • That’s it, you’re done!

You know damn well we wouldn’t ask you to do anything we hadn’t done ourselves.  

In our next installment:

H. R. 621: Bowhunters and Joyce Carol Oates vs the land-sellers!

Cuyahoga Valley National Park has 96 wells in it

Cuyahoga Valley National Park has 96 wells in it, photo from the Cuyahoga Valley NPS website


2 Comments on “Oil Wells in National Parks”

  1. Carolyn Hely says:



  2. Thank you for writing this well thought out piece. I’m glad we’ve got someone to give us a more balanced view.

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