North Dakota park threatened by oil, gas drilling

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The pristine vistas and rugged prairie of Theodore Roosevelt National Park may soon be marred by oil rigs. The North Dakota park, which is home to a great variety of wildlife, has 100 miles of hiking and horse trails, and has skies where visitors can sometimes witness the Northern Lights, is about to become the latest area to be used for oil and natural gas drilling operations.

The oil and natural gas industries have been encroaching on the park for some time now. The same sky beneath which park goers once stood and, on lucky occasions, observed the Aurora Borealis, is now being tinged instead with the orange glow of natural gas flares from drilling on the park's border. Now, park officials say, there is serious talk about leasing actual park land to oil and fracking companies, which would mean that the environmental tampering would no longer be an outside threat, and the park's fragile ecosystem would come under attack.

Winthrop Roosevelt, great-great grandson of the president for which the park is named, remarked, "The purpose of the park is to provide for future generations. The ability to do so is compromised if developers expose the park to that type of drilling," especially "without having a really good knowledge of the long-term effects it may have." As it is, he noted, as many as one thousand trucks per day transporting waste or supplies for drilling regularly use the park's dirt roads - roads that were originally meant only for light tourist traffic.

Former North Dakota tourism director Jim Fuglie, who writes extensively on the park, said, "With an oil boom comes all kinds of problems. We have pristine air, we have pristine water; nothing has ever threatened those things before. Now, we have cattle ranchers whose grass is being covered by the dust of a thousand trucks a day."

Think Progress commented on the issue, stating, "Oil wells are creeping closer and closer to the park's boundaries. Already, visitors are discovering" that parts of the park are "becoming islands in a sea of industrial development. Soon, there could be drilling within the national park itself." In fact, they added, it's "one of 30 national parks that could have drilling within their borders in the future."

They went on to include a video by the Center for American Progress, part of the group's report on the issue, which notes that Theodore Roosevelt National Park is part of the massive Bakken shale that has caused the recent North Dakota oil drilling boom. The group said in their report, "Oil and gas drilling is a dirty business that, if done improperly, has the potential to do substantial harm to national parks. Drilling involves not just the construction of rigs but also roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure. Toxic chemicals such as naphthalene and benzene are sometimes used in oil and gas drilling and production activities. There is also the equally real threat of spills, which are frequent both onshore and offshore. One estimate found that in North Dakota in 2011 alone, there were more than a thousand spills of oil, wastewater, or other drilling fluids."

Roosevelt concluded, "Our national parks were set aside to protect America's natural, cultural, and historic resources for future generations. The headlong rush to drill has caused a number of social and environmental consequences that are just too startling to ignore, and North Dakota's unique and fragile ecosystem is being irrevocably changed." Speaking directly to environmentalists, he added, "If you are outraged like I am that a national park could be sacrificed in the oil and gas industry's quest for selfish profit, it's time to take action."

Photo: Oil production can be seen just beyond the boundaries of scenic Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Visitors can often hear the sounds of the activity while in the park itself. Park officials fear that oil and gas companies will soon seek to begin drilling within the park itself. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

 

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