The National Park Service finalized updated rules for oil drilling on private lands within national parks, enacting stronger protections for the 42 park sites that have privately held oil, gas, and other mineral rights within their boundaries.
Privately owned mineral rights, known as “split estates,” exist where the federal government owns only the surface of the land, with the ownership of mineral rights below ground retained by private companies. While the federal government does not have the legal right to prohibit these private companies from accessing oil, gas, and other minerals, it can regulate drilling and mining activities to prevent damage to national park resources.
The finalized changes to the NPS’s 9B rules, which govern the development of privately owned mineral rights in national parks, have been in progress since 2011. The rule changes include closing loopholes that previously exempted more than 60 percent of existing in-park wells from the rules, as well as lifting an outdated cap on performance bonds, which left taxpayers on the hook for oil well cleanup costs in the event of an operator default.
Below is a statement by Nicholas Lund, National Parks Conservation Association’s Senior Manager for Landscape Conservation:
“The completion of the Park Service’s five-year effort to update mineral development rules is a significant development for our national parks. The last thing a visitor wants to see are more oil rigs in national parks. While these new rules will not stop drilling in parks outright, thanks to them, not only will national parks will be better protected, but producers will also now be held liable for the impact these operations have on our parks.
“This an important step forward in protecting national parks from oil and gas development, but the ultimate goal must be to ensure mineral rights are acquired by the Federal Government so there is no drilling in parks. America’s favorite places won’t truly be protected until that happens.”
The 9B rules, unchanged since they were established in 1978, impact 12 national parks with active oil and gas operations, including Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. The updated rules would also apply to an additional 30 national parks with privately owned mineral rights but no active drilling, including Grand Teton and Mammoth Cave National Parks.
In January, NPCA as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Park Rangers for Our Lands, and the Ohio Environmental Council submitted comments in support of the NPS proposal, but also sought improvements to ensure the protection of wildlife and park visitors. Specifically, the groups requested NPS to consider buying out private mineral rights in parks, requiring developers to adhere to best management practices for their operations, and ensure parks will not be harmed by drilling operations outside park boundaries.