As a native of the northeast, I will never forget my first trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountains were overwhelming compared to those back home. After a few days exploring the lakes and lush green valleys, and hiking through the aspen and pines (with more pauses to catch my breath than I care to admit as I acclimated to the elevation), we traveled into the tundra of the park. It provided the most sweeping vistas of the barren mountain tops, and I was unprepared for the cold wind and the sheer expanse of the mountain range. A trip to this treasured park would be incomplete without feeling the winds whipping around you while elk grazing on the grasses the mountain tops loom all around.
But these sweeping vistas are at risk, as we see in a recent report from The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.
Last week, the Coalition released its new report, Action Needed to Protect National Parks from Oil and Gas Development, which considers the impacts of oil and gas development near four exemplary national parks: Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and Grand Teton in Wyoming.
Studies and research have identified significant, negative environmental impacts at these parks. They have measured increased ozone at Carlsbad Caverns, which decreases visibility and contaminates soil and water, exposing plants, animals, and us to harmful pollutants. Additionally, drilling may compromise the fragile underground cave system which the park was created to protect.
Similarly, Rocky Mountain suffers from increased ozone levels, which exceed the Clean Air Act standards. Furthermore, human activity associated with energy development disrupts wildlife migration, negatively impacting the park’s fragile ecosystem.
A staggering 15,000 miles of roads support oil and gas development around Chaco Canyon which sits in the Colorado Plateau ecosystem. NASA has identified a methane cloud hovering over the Four Corners of the United States, including this park, threatening clean air and clean water in the park.
Finally, Grand Teton protects the Hoback-Red Desert migration corridor, the longest mule deer migration pattern ever recorded. Further exploration in this region threatens this spectacular feat. Additionally, proposed exploration would disrupt and threaten the migration pattern of the pronghorn, the fastest land animal in North America.
Our national parks were created to protect and preserve irreplaceable landscapes and resources; however, the plants and wildlife that call them home do not exist in a bubble, isolated from the surrounding land. They are interdependent, which means that oil and gas development near national parks will impact the resources within those parks.This week NatureServe published a report detailing their assessment that in the United States 34% of plants and 40% of animals are at risk of extinction and 41% of ecosystems are at risk of collapse. We must take action.
The current federal oil and gas program is broken. We know that oil and gas development activities have wide-reaching impacts on the overall environment, in addition to the unique ecosystems at national parks across the country. We know that the current system is inefficient and a financial burden on the United States. And so, we urge the Biden administration and Congress to prioritize reforming this flawed system to ensure our parks and communities are protected as our country works to address and secure our future energy needs.