Fighting Oil and Gas Development at Dinosaur National Monument: A Victory or a Delay?
By Erika Pollard, Southwest Program Manager
Tucked into the corners where the Utah and Colorado state lines meet is an exceptional landscape where the Old West stayed young. It is a land of open skies and plains, rugged canyons, and the vibrant Yampa and Green Rivers. And in the heart of it all is Dinosaur National Monument.
The monument was originally designated in 1915 to preserve its world-renowned Jurassic dinosaur fossils, and then expanded in 1938 to include the Yampa and Green Rivers, canyons, and viewsheds. But the pristine nature of this uniquely beautiful place is not assured. It takes work and advocacy to make sure it is not spoiled by inappropriate neighboring developments. While the park itself is protected from oil and gas production, these types of operations on adjacent property could have a major negative and permanent impact on Dinosaur National Monument.
That is why late last year, when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced an upcoming oil and gas development lease sale for 5,000 acres of land adjacent to the monument, we knew we had to act to preserve the long-term integrity of this park—and help prevent a dangerous precedent for this type of incompatible land use near national parks. In December, NPCA and The Wilderness Society submitted a joint protest of the lease sale and asked the BLM to evaluate how development would impact the resources and values of Dinosaur National Monument before offering the land for lease.
Based on previous experience, we knew that oil and gas exploration and development adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument could cause air and water pollution, increased noise, loss of wildlife habitat, a decrease in visitors, and numerous environmental impacts from creating new roads to handle the increased traffic associated with drilling for oil and gas. We also requested that BLM fully consider and incorporate National Park Service concerns into the leasing process to ensure that the landscape values they hold in common are protected.
On Monday, January 14, 2013, Dinosaur National Monument and all who visit there scored a victory when BLM posted a notice that they have deferred the approximately 5,000 acres from their upcoming oil and gas lease sale in February. But, unfortunately, it is not clear whether this is a permanent victory. This is not the first time BLM has considered parcels near Dinosaur National Monument for lease, followed by protests, appeals, and deferral. NPCA and our partners will be meeting with the BLM and pressing them to make a broader commitment to managing oil and gas development near the monument and to specify what the deferral really means and how long it will last. We will also encourage the BLM to make a similar decision to defer other oil and gas lease parcels near the monument included in a proposed May 2013 oil and gas lease sale.
With so many important resources to protect inside the monument boundaries, it is critical that adjacent land management is done thoughtfully and with full consideration of potential impacts to the monument. Dinosaur National Monument was created to protect this beautiful river corridor and its ancient dinosaur fossils while providing the highest-quality visitor experience for those traveling to western Colorado and northeastern Utah to see it. Those visitors should not be forced to share National Park Service roads with massive trucks or to see this special place degraded from inappropriate development just outside its boundaries.