Fracking Old Faithful? Republicans Want to Tap Our National Parks for Energy

A Wyoming gubernatorial candidate wants the U.S. to give Yellowstone Park to Wyoming, which would lease it for energy development.

Photo Credit: RobbyNRG/Shutterstock

What happens if you put a fracking injection well next to Old Faithful? We might find out if Republicans have their way. 

A Wyoming gubernatorial candidate has asked that Yellowstone National Park — and all national parks — be made open to drilling. Republican candidate Taylor Hayes says that the federal government should turn the park over to Wyoming and that the state should lease the park lands for drilling, mining, and grazing.

The pristine ecological retreat should be tapped of its resources says Hayes, who insists that all lands in Wyoming become open to drilling after the state acquires federal lands. 

“We will manage every square inch of Wyoming,” he says.

Haynes, a physician and rancher who describes himself as a scholar of the Constitution, claims that the U.S. government can own only 10 square miles of land, Washington, D.C., for the seat of government, as described in the U.S. Constitution.

Haynes faces Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Cindy Hill, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in  to be held on August 19.

Haynes is not an outlier among Tea Party conservatives. Drilling on federal lands, including our National Parks, has become increasingly popular among conservatives in recent years. Sen. Ted Cruz, and Reps. Michele Bachmann, Rob Bishop, and Pete Olson all have indicated that they want to open public lands for drilling. Bishop, a Utah Republican, is notably the chairperson of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. 

“Guys on the West Coast...west of the Mississippi, they know they’ve got oil and gas under the land that they can’t touch because it’s on a national park or some sort of federal land,” Olson recently told a group of energy developers.

Olson believes that cancelling protections for national parks and protected public lands would be a greatly increase energy production and would not harm the integrity of the land.

“The exploration and production industry can operate safely within national parks, while preserving the parks’ scenic and ecological values,” He said.

Cruz wants to allow drilling on public lands by selling them off first. He intends to amend the Sportsman Act of 2014, making it illegal for the federal government to own more than 50 percent of land in any state. It would force the U.S. to turn over management of the excess land to the state itself. If this amendment passed, states could sell the lands instead of burdening taxpayers with maintenance costs. The lands could become open for industrial activities like fracking, drilling, mining and logging. 

States where the federal government currently owns over 50 percent of the land are Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska.

The National Park Service currently identifies 42 parks where non-federal oil and gas drilling is or could be occurring in the future. Of these, 12 units currently have oil and gas operations within them, while 30 units may be threatened in the future with drilling. 

In Western states, voters are not in favor of selling off public lands. A Center for Western Priorities poll found that 77% of them oppose proposals made by some in the U.S. Congress to sell off public lands to reduce the budget deficit.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.


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