House Readies for Vote on National Park Drilling Rules

WASHINGTON (CN) – Congress has delayed voting on a joint resolution that conservationists warn will usher in the repeal of drilling rules in national parks, causing pollution of pristine natural resources.

Introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar earlier this week, HJ Res. 46 is poised to repeal the National Park Service’s management over private drilling in 40 parks nationwide.

Though the resolution does not authorize new drilling in national parks, it could drastically ease regulations on existing drilling operations inside of them. Originally scheduled for a Feb. 3 vote by the House of Representatives, docket records now show the bill is in committee.

The Park Service controls the surface of natural parks pursuant to what are known as 9B rules. These rules also authorize the Park Service to decline drilling for resources beneath the surface if the agency decides there is an environmental threat.

Gosar, an Arizona Republican, argued in a statement Wednesday that his resolution aims merely to block a “midnight regulation” that the Obama administration implemented in November 2016 to burden private enterprise.

Calling the Obama rule fundamentally flawed and misguided, Gosar said it threatens 534 non-federal oil and gas operations underway at parks in at least six states.

Rolling back the regulation is key to ensuring that these “private and state controlled operations will continue under the same environmental regulations that have worked well for the past 38 years,” Gosar said Wednesday.

Environmentalist organizations are already in a lather over the resolution. The National Parks Conservation Association issued a statement on Tuesday blasting Gosar’s resolution as “just the latest in a series of moves by federal lawmakers to weaken environmental protections for national parks under the Congressional Review Act.”

Nicholas Lund, a senior manager of conservation at the conservation group, warned that Gosar’s resolution if passed could also prohibit other agencies from issuing future protections unless otherwise directed by Congress.

Unraveling “commonsense protections,” Lund warned, could subject national parks to “poorly regulated oil and gas drilling,” and threats to air quality, water and wildlife.  

The 9B rules have been in place since 1978, but the update to the rules Gosar seeks to capitalize on occurred a week before the presidential election. The Washington Post noted that then-Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis griped at the time that 60 percent of drilling operations allowed in parks were exempt from the regulations.

Gosar says the rules impose a “completely unacceptable” 180-day delay on drilling companies after they submit a plan of operations to access mineral rights on public land.

“Six months for a permit decision by the NPS is an exorbitant length of time that creates unnecessary delays in industry operations,” Gosar said.

But the National Parks Conservation Association says striking the rules could allow for leaks or spills to go unpunished.

“Companies would be able to build roads through national parks to begin drilling,” Lund said.

Further, drilling companies would not be required to inform parks or visitors about when or how drilling operations would happen.

Energy giants such as the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Western Energy Alliance and the American Exploration and Production Council have openly opposed the 9B rules in the past, citing its enforcement as a cumbersome constitutional violation to leaseholders.

(Editor’s Note: This article has been modified from its original version because the House vote scheduled for Feb. 3 was delayed.)