National parks are, sadly, some of the last places on the planet that are free from pollution, traffic and other environmental hazards. The National Park Service (NPS) is the body in charge of protecting and overseeing the national parks and keeping them clean and safe.

Unfortunately, one of the threats occurring under Donald Trump’s still young administration is a threat that would significantly hurt national parks. It’s called House Joint Resolution 46 and was introduced by Paul Gosar, a Republican U.S. Representative from Arizona , in January. This bill would repeal important standards regarding oil and gas drilling in national parks across America. Here’s everything you need to know.

What Standards are in Place Currently? 

 In 1978, the NPS put into effect the “9B” rules, standards that regulated any drilling that occurred in national parks. However, in the past 38 years, a lot has changed in terms of drilling technology and the 9B rules simply weren’t doing enough to protect the national parks. So, the NPS updated these rules through a 7-year long process. Updated rules went into effect in 2016.

Goser called these changes “midnight” regulations, implying that they pushed these rules through hastily at the end of Obama’s presidency. However, it is important to remember that the NPS has been working on these changes for seven years. The NPS allowed industry representatives, state officials and interested public to provide their input and took these into consideration.

Just a side note: Gosar has received almost $250,000 through his elections from the energy and national resource sector. Probably unrelated.

These updates increased safety standards, protected tax payers from footing the bill if any drillers abandoned their wells and allowed the NPS to charge drilling companies for the use of the national park land for things like roads and pipelines. Among other changes, these rules were implemented to better monitor and protect the national parks from oil and gas drilling.

In a nutshell, House Joint Resolution 46 would repeal all of these updated rules and prevent the NPS from updating their standards ever again, leaving them with the 1978 9B rules indefinitely.

Why is there Drilling in National Parks Anyway? 

Many national parks are what is called a split estate (one example is the Grand Tetons National Park, pictured above). This means that the federal government owns the surface lands which are protected through NPS while the mineral land below the surface is owned by private companies. When these companies want to extract those minerals that they technically own, the NPS has to find ways to allow them to do this safely without harm to the surface land.

Currently, 12 national parks have active oil and gas wells on their land, making a total of 534 active wells on national park land. There are 30 other parks that are considered split estate, but these parks do not have active drilling on the land yet. Onshore drilling often has many wells in one location because onshore wells do not produce as much as offshore. This is why so many wells are on only 12 national parks.

Drilling on national park land is simply a reality that the NPS has to deal with as they work to protect the beautiful land of the United States. The 9B regulations and updated rules were their effort to allow drilling while keeping the land safe.

What Implications Would This Bill Have?

The bill introduced by Goser would have obvious effects on the NPS as they are forced to revert to the old regulations and are banned from updating their regulations in the future. Wells that need repairs and safety upgrades would not get them, taxpayers would keep paying for cleanup costs of abandoned wells and drillers would not be held accountable for their wells. However, these consequences are only the beginning. The bill has bigger implications as well.

If this bill passes, it would set a precedent in regards to agencies creating rules and regulations to protect their assets. This bill could make it harder for agencies like the NPS to update regulations or create new rules to protect whatever it is they are trying to protect.

The bill would also be seen by many as yet another attack on the environment by the Donald Trump administration, one that has already shown signs of dismantling the EPA, pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and putting the environment second to money and greed.

There is currently no set voting date for this bill, but concerned citizens who are worried about the future of the environment are encouraged to make their opinion known to their state representatives. This bill can be dangerous to national parks that America holds so sacred, so the time to take action is now.

Image credit: Al_HikesAZ/Flickr

About The Author

Anum Yoon

Anum Yoon is a finance writer by profession, and a sustainability writer by passion. She is now with GGP to help spread the environmental message by inspiring and empowering others to take action.