Restore Our National Parks Using Oil and Natural Gas
by Aaron Johnson, Vice President of Public Affairs on June 19, 2019 - 9:08am
Politicians promising to shut down public lands to oil and natural gas development have it all wrong, that is if they’re serious about conservation. The 0.07 percent of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) public lands leased for oil and gas production can and ought to be used to improve our nation’s crumbling national parks. Just take a trip through Wyoming to Yellowstone National Park and you’ll see the two types of public lands both serve valuable purposes. That's what my family did.
Earlier this month, we drove nearly 10 hours to Yellowstone where we spent four days hiking and touring around. Immediately after arriving I could see the park is struggling to keep up with impact of four million visitors each year.
From the gate we headed to one of the park’s largest campgrounds. We were happy to arrive not only because we were road weary, but also for several months we’d looked forward getting the full park experience by camping out. What we discovered resembled more of a marsh than a campground, however. Our designated spot was completely flooded. Never in my years of camping have I experienced such poor conditions.
We were in one of the most popular campgrounds in Yellowstone and it was in such a poor state with several inches of standing water in parts. The area was clearly not designed to meet the challenges of so many visitors and seasonal weather. Though not ideal, we managed to find another spot that was only partially flooded but with high ground where we could to set up the tent and finally enjoy the beauty surrounding us.
The next day driving around I came across another spot in much more critical condition. A portion of trail overlooking the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River was closed due to a raw sewage leak. The source appeared to be a nearby bathroom undergoing reconstruction. Most visitors didn’t notice because they were distracted by the incredible views. Yet a section of one of the most iconic spots in the park was blocked off due to a health hazard caused by aging bathroom facility.
There are several other examples around the park where I saw roads, lodges, and trails that required significant repair or complete reconstruction, but these provided sense of problems. After visiting, it’s not a surprise that Yellowstone has $516 million in outstanding maintenance needs. I think we only saw a small portion of that. In all, the projects did not take away from the amazing visit, but were a sign of the struggle to keep up with wear and tear that comes from millions visitors.
While the national park was impressive, for those not sleeping in the back seat the drive through Wyoming’s open ranges lent a different but related observation. The public lands managed by BLM across the state can be a significant source of revenues to help pay for critical maintenance seen in Yellowstone and parks like it.
We drove through several oil and natural gas fields within BLM-managed areas on the way there and back. We saw the production taking place within the Wind Rivers, Bighorn, and Green River basins. According to Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue, these areas contributed $381 million in revenues to the federal government in 2017, proving to be a significant source of the funds that could be used to help national parks rebuild.
Currently, Congress is considering doing just that. Discussion is growing around the Restore Our Parks Act (S. 500), a bill that would dedicate up to $1.3 billion in revenues the government collects annually from oil and natural gas production on public lands to help fund national park maintenance over five years.
Across the entire National Parks Service there is a backlog of maintenance projects adding up to $12 billion. The bill would use revenues already collected by BLM from oil and natural gas leases, rents, and royalties and direct the money toward national park maintenance instead of the federal government’s general fund.
Despite the unrealistic plans of presidential candidates to shut down public lands, most Democrats and Republicans in Congress see energy production on BLM’s public lands as a responsible way to support national parks. The bill has strong bi-partisan support, with more than half the House signed as co-sponsors and more than one-third of the Senate. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is putting his weight behind the bill, as reported by the Alliance’s Western Wire project. Vice President Mike Pence also promoted the bill during his visit to Yellowstone last week.
With all of the debate around public lands taking place, it’s important to recognize that the different lands have different purposes. BLM’s multiple-use lands are America’s working landscapes, set aside for recreation; development of energy, food, and timber; as well as conservation. The revenues collected from those activities can in turn be put to use supporting treasured national parks that are set aside and protected so people can enjoy the incredible landscapes across our county. Each has their own purpose, but together they can support each other.