USA NATIONAL PARKS: Drilling at ‘doorstep’ drives visitors away — report; Imagine living surrounded by drilling, fracing and air, land and water pollution.

NATIONAL PARKS: Drilling at ‘doorstep’ drives visitors away — report by Scott Streater, August 26, 2016, E&E News

Oil and gas development near national parks is driving away visitors to some of the nation’s most iconic sites, according to a new report by a watchdog group that warns the development threatens the economic benefits of parks to local communities.

The report, released late yesterday by the Western Values Project on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, found sharp visitor declines at parks ranging from Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana.

The report highlights visitation trends at five national park units in four Western states, and correlates declining visitation to increases in oil and gas drilling activity near each site.

An oil and gas industry trade group dismissed the report’s conclusions, calling it the work of an environmental group that “obviously cherry picked a few parks and a few date ranges to make a point.”

But at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, for example, visitation declined 43 percent between 1993 and 2015, the report says. During that time, oil production near the World Heritage Site in the San Juan Basin increased by 83 percent, with 3,500 wells completed between 2005 and 2007.

The same goes at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, also in New Mexico, where the report ties a 35 percent decline in visitation between 1993 and 2015 to a 200 percent increase in oil production in the surrounding area during that same period.

“Park visitors are taking notice” of nearby drilling activity, the report says. “They — and the millions they pump into state and local economies — are staying away from parks where oil and gas production has surged on nearby lands.”

The report notes a Bureau of Land Management report that found visitation at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah “declined by over 40 percent between 1999 and 2014 as oil production in Uintah County increased by 358 percent and gas production increased by 339 percent.”

While the report concedes that “other factors may be contributing to these declines,” it adds that “a clear pattern is emerging” between nearby oil and gas development and park visitation, highlighting the impacts to parks from development just outside park boundaries. [Imagine what it’s like to live surrounded by and have your land, water, air and health harmed by “brute force and ignorant” oil and gas frac experiments, drilling, waste dumping, flaring and venting of toxic mystery chemcials, and associated developments]

“National parks are important economic engines for local and regional economies,” said Chris Saeger, the Western Values Project’s executive director. “And what goes on next to our parks can be as impactful as what’s in our parks.”

But Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance, said the report’s findings are deeply flawed and hard to take seriously.

For one, Sgamma said, the group should have expanded the scope of the report to include visitation trends at “other parks that aren’t near oil and natural gas development.”

She cited the Whitman Mission National Historic Site in Washington, “which isn’t near any development” yet “experienced a 49 percent decline in visitation between 1998 and 2015, more than the declines [the Western Values Project] claims to show for some of the parks in their public relations piece.”

“Death Valley National Park, far from any oil and gas development, experienced a 20 percent decline in visitation between 1999 and 2015,” she said. “I could go on.”

But the impacts of nearby oil and gas development are tangible at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, which is experiencing a shale oil boom that has energized the state’s economy.

The Western Values Project report says a 7 percent drop in visitation there since 2010 is tied to an 841 percent increase in oil production and 900 percent increase in natural gas production during that time in McKenzie County.

The report says “drill rigs, wells and other infrastructure associated with oil and gas production in the Bakken formation has surrounded the national park.”

Theodore Roosevelt National Park officials have raised concerns about the surrounding development, and the park has become a symbol of the threats outside development can have on the mission of national park units. Flares from drilling rigs are visible at night from various points inside the park, on the very southern end of the Bakken Shale play.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent Wendy Ross has likened the surrounding development activity, which includes a proposed oil refinery, to “death by a thousand cuts” (Greenwire, June 28).

Saeger said Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the other examples in the report demonstrate that as the National Park Service celebrates its centennial this week, “the threats at the doorstep of many national parks should encourage us to remain vigilant against the very real threats to another 100 years of conservation and economic success.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Pipeline Explosion Kills 10 Campers in N.M. by ABC NEWS, August 20, 2000

Federal, state and local authorities are investigating the cause of Saturday’s natural gas pipeline explosion that killed five adults and five children and left two other people in critical condition in southeast New Mexico.

The victims, members of two extended families, were camping early Saturday morning near the Pecos River, about 200 to 300 yards from the below-ground explosion.

The two adult survivors were in critical condition in a Lubbock, Texas hospital.

The 30-inch pipeline exploded around 5:30 a.m. Saturday, and left a crater about 86 feet long, 46 feet wide and 20 feet deep. Police say the resulting fire probably lasted 30 to 40 minutes. It reportedly was visible about 20 miles to the north in Carlsbad, N.M.

Virtual Flamethrower

Authorities said one end of the ruptured line became a virtual flame-thrower, showering fire on the victims camped beneath a bridge about 200 yards away.

“The evidence out there at the scene indicates it was horrendously hot,” State Police Capt. John Balderston said. “It incinerated everything in its path. If it burned for as long as we think it burned, that explains the extensive damage to the vehicles and to the property and people.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he added. “We’ve had some tragedies but this is the worst I’ve seen.”

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board is on the scene, and Gov. Gary Johnson is to tour the site later today.

Pipeline Co. Sees No Foul Play

John Somerhalder, president of the pipeline group of El Paso Energy, the parent company of El Paso Natural Gas Co., says his company is cooperating fully with investigators. But he adds he believes the explosion was an accident.

“We saw no indication there was third party damage or foul play,” Somerhalder said. “It is, was a very major tragedy that occurred [Saturday], and it occurred as a result of a rupture of one of our pipelines.”

A New Mexico State Police spokesman said most of the victims were up and some were fishing when the explosion occurred. But they were helpless to escape the inferno.

“They were consumed by a huge ball of fire,” state police Lt. Larry Rogers said.

Rogers said the campers had lanterns so they could fish through the night and also had a small campfire going.

Balderston said one survivor recalled being awakened by a man yelling fire.

“She stands up and discovers she’s on fire and jumps in the river,” Balderston said. “Then returns to get her children and can’t, because it’s so intense.”

Campsite Incinerated

Down by the water, investigators found sleeping bags and tents melted, he said.

“The only reason we could tell it was a tent was the geometric design of the poles,” Balderston said.

Six people died at the scene and three others died Saturday night at University Medical Center in Lubbock. A 5-year-old girl died late Saturday while en route by air ambulance to a Shriners Hospital in Galveston, Texas.

Those who died at the Lubbock hospital were Roy Lee Heady, 20, his wife, Amy, 18, and Glenda Sumler, 47. Kirsten Sumler, 5, was pronounced dead on arrival at Shriners Hospital in Galveston. She was Glenda Sumler’s granddaughter.

The Headys’ three girls, 22-month-old Kelsey and 6-month-old twins Timber and Tamber, died in the explosion. Also killed at the campsite were Terry Smith, 23, and his son, Dustin, 3, and father-in-law Don Sumler.

Bobby Smith, 43, and his daughter-in-law, Amanda Smith, 25, survived. Amanda Smith was Terry Smith’s wife and the mother of Kirsten Sumler.

Popular Site

Balderston said the area is not a developed camping area, but is popular with area residents because it provides easy access to the Pecos River.

“They were there to enjoy the shade the bridge offered,” Balderston said.

The pipeline was 5 to 6 feet underground at the rupture point, El Paso Natural Gas Co. spokeswoman Norma Dunn said today.

“It is an absolute mystery right now as to why that blew,” Balderston said. Dunn added that investigators may never be able to say what sparked it.

“We saw a large ball of flames,” Balderston said. “The fire department was able to find six people in the river, walking, west of the incident.”

Dunn said the bridge carries the pipeline across the river. The pipeline then goes underground, and the explosion occurred on the east side of the river, she said.

The explosion occurred in an area where the pipeline crosses the river. It is isolated and unpopulated, with the surrounding terrain dotted with scrub and creosote. Amid the desolate surroundings today sat the broken and blackened pipeline.

Could Have Been Anything

Dunn said the explosion could have been touched off by anything — from a spark generated by rocks striking each other, someone lighting a cigarette or coal from a barbecue.

The pipeline supplies gas to power plants in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, she said. Somerholder said crews were working today to get the line back in service because it is a major supply line.

Somerholder said the line was installed in 1950, but said there did not appear to be any correlation between the age of the pipeline and the explosion.

“Most of our pipelines in this age range are in very good shape,” he said.

Dunn said the line was last checked Aug. 2.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. ]

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