New Bill Would Ban Fracking In National Parks And Forests

CREDIT: AP Photo/Richard Vogel

A House Democrat introduced a bill this week that would ban fracking on federal lands, legislation that, according to anti-fracking group Food and Water Watch, is the “strongest federal bill against fracking introduced in Congress to date.”

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) submitted a bill on Wednesday that would put federal lands off-limits to fracking for oil or gas. Since the House closed its session Thursday, the bill won’t be voted on this year, but Pocan’s office told ThinkProgress that the Congressman will likely introduce a similar measure next year.

In a statement, Pocan stressed the need to protect public lands from the environmental and health risks of fracking as the impetus behind the bill.

“Federal lands should be preserved for the public good,” he said. “There are serious safety concerns around fracking and it should not be allowed on our pristine public lands specifically set aside for conservation. As we learn more about fracking’s impact on the environment and people living near fracking wells, one thing is clear, the process can be harmful and the effects are not fully understood. We should not allow short-term economic gain to harm our environment and endanger workers.”

Right now, fracking is legal on federal lands. Oil and gas development is already occurring in some national forests, recreation areas, and national seashores, and many worry fracking in and around public lands will only increase in the coming years.

A 2012 analysis by the Center for American Progress found that 12 public land units around the U.S. already had oil or gas drilling operations on them, and that 30 could house future drilling. In all, energy companies have secured leases on more than 36 million acres of public land, and have expressed interest in 12 million more acres.

And several parks, even if they don’t have drilling within their borders, are close enough to energy development sites that it can be seen from the park. Oil rigs can be seen from multiple parts of North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and gas flaring from fracking operations can also be seen at night. This flaring is a major disruption: according to the National Park Conservation Association, Theodore Roosevelt once had one of the darkest night skies of the national park system, making it a prime stargazing region.

Adding additional wells around the park could “seriously impair the park’s mandate to protect its undeveloped lands and wildlife, perhaps most noticeably by severing connections between the park and the surrounding Little Missouri National Grasslands, impeding migration routes and fragmenting habitat for pronghorn, mule and white-tailed deer, elk, and sharp-tailed grouse,” the NPCA stated.

Last year, the Department of the Interior issued draft rules that required oil and gas companies to disclose fracking chemicals they use in operations on federal lands, but some environmental groups didn’t think the rules went far enough in protecting public lands from the impacts of fracking.

Other groups have attempted to ban or restrict fracking on federal lands in the past. CREDO Action started a petition last year to get the Bureau of Land Management to ban fracking on federal lands, saying that the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rules don’t go far enough to protect public lands from fracking. The NRDC, too, supports a moratorium on fracking in federal lands.

Rep. Pocan is a member of the House’s Safe Climate Caucus, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). He’s spoken out about climate change and his role in the Safe Climate Caucus before, saying in a taped statement that it’s “undeniable that we’re going to change the planet if we don’t do something now.”