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Nick Eason: Drilling near Dinosaur National Monument is a mistake

Parks and monuments are affected by activities outside their borders.

(Jacob Holgerson | courtesy National Park Service) A view of the stars filling the night sky over Quarry Exhibit Hall in Dinosaur National Monument, north of Jensen, Utah. The monument has been named an International Dark Sky Park, which means measures to reduce light pollution make it easier to see the Milky Way in the night sky.

Reflecting upon a 30-year career with the National Park Service (NPS), I’ve had the good fortune of working in some of America’s most iconic landscapes. Of all these prominent places and memories, Dinosaur National Monument is my most treasured and I remain devoted as ever to the mission of the NPS and a responsibility that we all share for protecting our shared landscapes.

I’ve learned that less than half a mile from the park boundary, an oil and gas company is planning to conduct exploratory drilling for oil wells on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument. The wells are to be located on adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands within an area categorized as sensitive wildlife habitat with wilderness characteristics and visible from the monument boundary.

The concern is compounded by the fact that the drilling location is little more than a mile away from the world famous Carnegie Fossil Quarry, an internationally significant paleontological resource. Thousands of visitors from around the world visit the quarry every year.

Parks act as anchors in a larger, interwoven complex of natural and cultural features. It then becomes sponsibility of the NPS to care for those features in such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of generations now and into the future.

While parks have defined boundaries, the factors that influence those often fragile and irreplaceable resources do not stop at those boundaries. As such, management decisions regarding lands outside of park boundaries can have far-ranging impacts on those resources that exist within the park. This is a shining example of why the current oil and gas leasing program needs review and reform.

Reports indicate that fossil fuel development from public lands currently account for nearly a quarter of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. Given the negative impacts from a system of development which ultimately needs to be phased out in favor of rapidly expanding alternative energy sources, there can be no justification for pushing drilling up to the borders of our nation’s national treasures. It is bad enough that parks and public lands are already experiencing the climate and air quality impacts of expanded oil and gas exploration without compounding the problem.

More than 90% of Dinosaur National Monument has previously been recommended for wilderness designation. That recommendation was built upon a foundation of resource values which encompassed geology, broad scope natural resources, scenic beauty, cultural resources, scientific resources and recreational value.

The extent to which BLM considered the impacts of these two wells upon the values of Dinosaur National Monument is unclear and is unacceptably thin. Industrial development along the park’s west boundary could mar the monument’s dark skies, natural quiet, air quality and scenic vistas that draw thousands of visitors to the park each year.

Constructing new roads and related industrial impact for the purpose of energy development could adversely impact the area’s sensitive wildlife habitat, wilderness characteristics and paleontological resources. It could also adversely affect the amount of motorized traffic in the area.

The significant potential of immediate and lasting impact to Dinosaur is too great for this project to move forward.

Nick Eason

Nick Eason retired to Moab following a 30-year career with the National Park Service. His career took him to Montezuma Castle National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Parks and Natural Bridges National Monument. He moved to Dinosaur National Monument in 1988 and remained there as chief of resource management and visitor protection until he retired in 1995.

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