Call to Regulate Drilling on National Wildlife Refuges

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Call to Regulate Drilling on National Wildlife Refuges

To Avert Damage from Shale Gas Boom, Refuges Urged to Adopt Park Service Rules

Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service needs rules to protect National Wildlife Refuges from spills and contamination from oil and gas drilling, according to a rulemaking petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Thousands of wells now operate on refuges, particularly in the south and east where the subsurface rights are privately held, with little regulation.  That number is likely to skyrocket as natural gas from underground shale formations is tapped.

PEER is pressing the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) which operates the refuge system to adopt rules modeled on ones the National Park Service has had in effect for more than 30 years.  The rules address spill prevention and response, bonds for reclamation, proper waste disposal and reducing surface impacts. The Park Service is now in the process of updating its rules to close loopholes that exempt more than half of drilling operations; extend incentives for directional drilling; adopt operating standards that minimize effects on park lands; and hike inadequate assurance and bonding requirements as well as the fees and penalties.  PEER is urging FWS to incorporate these improvements, as well.

A 2003 report by the Government Accountability Office report found that –

“…the Fish and Wildlife Service has the authority to require owners of outstanding mineral rights to obtain [but] refuge managers lack sufficient guidance, resources, and training to properly monitor oil and gas operators. Current Fish and Wildlife Service guidance regarding the management of oil and gas activities where there are private mineral rights is unclear…”

Adopting the PEER petition would provide the clear guidance, legal authority and enforceable policies now lacking.  In its report GAO also concluded that –

  • Approximately one in four (155 of 575) national wildlife refuges have past or present oil or gas activity and account for 1.1% of national oil production and .04% of natural gas production;
  • Damage to refuge resources has occurred from spills, construction and operation.  For example, of 16 wildlife refuges visited by GAO, meant to be representative of the refuge system, 15 had suffered contamination from spills of oil or brine; and
  • FWS reported 348 spills in 2002 alone but this figure is low as not all spills are reported.

“These basic rules will prevent the wildlife values of refuges from being needlessly sacrificed by energy production,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that FWS has not done a comprehensive review of oil and gas activities on its refuges.  “These rules have worked for more than a generation in our parks and there is no reason they cannot be successfully transplanted to our refuges.”

Phone: 202-265-7337

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Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

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