REPORT: On 100 Year Anniversary, Oil & Gas Development Threatens “America’s Best Idea”

As the National Park Service celebrates 100 years of protecting and preserving some of America’s most spectacular landscapes and natural treasures, a disturbing trend has emerged as oil and gas development creeps ever closer to National Park Boundaries.

According to a new report by Western Values Project, many of America’s most iconic parks & monuments are at risk of declining visitation due to the proximity of oil and gas development.  In 2015, visitors to national parks generated $32 billion in economic output, but fewer visitors means fewer tourism dollars in local economies.

“National Parks are important economic engines for local and regional economies,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. “And what goes on next to our parks can be as impactful as what’s in our parks.  So while today we’re celebrating how far we’ve come in the last 100 years, the threats at the doorstep of many National Parks should encourage us to remain vigilant against the very real threats to another 100 years of conservation and economic success.”

Fortunately, the BLM has a new tool called a “master leasing plan” which is designed to balance development with the protection of sensitive areas, like the scenic lands that typically border national parks.  BLM is nearly finished with the Moab Master Leasing Plan, which will guide development and limit conflicts on the stunning landscape that surround Arches and Canyonlands national parks.  There are several other national parks in the West that are facing similar conflicts with oil and gas development, including Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico and Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.  By building on the success of the Moab Master Leasing Plan, BLM can move forward with similar plans for public lands around those parks and do its part to support local communities and the legacy of our national park system. 

The report specifically covers 5 parks and monuments in 4 western states, but the trend is a warning to protected areas across the nation where local economies are dependent on tourist dollars.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico – visitation down 35%

Oil production increased by 200 percent in Eddy County between 1993 and 2015, with over 6,000 wells completed in a recent four-year stretch (2008-11). Meanwhile, visitation to Carlsbad Caverns declined by 35 percent from 1993 to 2015.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico – visitation down 43%

While gas production has declined modestly since 1993, industry has continued the rapid pace of development, completing almost 3,500 new wells between 2005 and 2007. Oil production has also increased (by 83 percent) since 1993.  Over the same period, the park experienced a dramatic, 43 percent decline in visitation.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota – visitation down 7%

Between 2010 and 2015, oil production in McKenzie County rose by 841 percent, while gas production increased by 900 percent.  Visitation to the park decreased by 7 percent over the same period.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana – visitation down 28%

Gas production in Big Horn County increased by over 7,000 percent between 1999 and 2008, with industry completing 325 new wells in 2006 alone. Over the same period, visitation to Little Bighorn Battlefield dropped by 28 percent.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas – visitation down 15%

Between 2000 and 2015, natural gas production in the area increased by more than 10,000 percent, while oil production grew by 400 percent.  Over the same time frame, visitation to Guadalupe Mountains declined by 15 percent.

Join the effort to strengthen the American West.