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National Parks Will Close To The Public But Stay Open To Drilling If The Government Shuts Down

By Jessica Goad, Guest Contributor and Matt Lee-Ashley

"National Parks Will Close To The Public But Stay Open To Drilling If The Government Shuts Down"

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CREDIT: upadowna.org

Despite the fact that most Americans object to the tactic of shutting down the government over Obamacare, Congressional Republicans continue to insist that they will not pass a budget for the federal government unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded, meaning that the government could potentially shut down when its current funding authorization runs out this coming Monday, September 30th.

A review of the most recent contingency plans completed in December 2011 for federal agencies shows that under a government shutdown, federal land management agencies would be required to close national parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests to the general public but keep them open to most oil, gas, and mining operations.

The National Park Service’s contingency plan says:

Effective immediately upon a lapse in appropriations, the National Park Service will take all necessary steps to close and secure national park facilities and grounds in order to suspend all activities except for those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property…Where ever possible, park roads will be closed and access will be denied.

The closures, which may happen just 48 hours after tens of thousands of volunteers turn out this Saturday for National Public Lands Day, will not only throw a wrench in countless family plans, but will send chills through the country’s multibillion dollar tourism and recreation industry.

But because Congress allocates resources to federal agencies through a complex mix of funding sources, public lands and waters would likely remain open to most oil, gas, and mining operations.

This is even true for national parks. Drilling is currently happening in 12 national parks, including in Padre Island National Seashore in Texas and Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. The National Park Service’s contingency plan did not specify what impacts the shutdown would have on oil and gas operations within these areas but it does note that “access to personal and commercial inholdings and leased facilities is permitted.”

Additionally, while the Bureau of Land Management will not be able to process new oil and gas permits, oil and gas production at existing operations is expected to continue in other locations onshore according to the Bureau of Land Management’s contingency plan. Yet only minimal agency personnel necessary for “protection of human life and property” will be on duty for inspections and enforcement and to oversee drilling activities such as “well shut-ins, re-completions, and downhole/equipment changes in drilling/plugging operations.” Current mining operations on public lands may continue as well, provided they do not need new authorizations or permits.

Offshore oil and gas drilling will also be largely unaffected by a shutdown. The contingency plan for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, one of the two agencies that manages oil and gas offshore, states that:

In the event of a shutdown, BOEM would continue to perform major operations and planning. This would allow the Bureau to continue to plan for future exploration and development of energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf… The operations and planning activities that continue would allow industry to function during a government shutdown.

Being “denied access” to national parks and public lands is not the only way that Americans will feel the effects of a government shutdown when it comes to energy and the environment. As Climate Progress described this week, other federal agencies would be required to stop environmental permitting for construction projects, cleanup of toxic waste sites, as well as many scientific research projects. Additionally, the Smithsonian Institution wrote in 2011 that “it would be necessary for us to close all museum buildings to the public.”

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