Lawsuit targets oil wells near national parks

Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas is one of 14 national areas that have privately owned minerals beneath them.
Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas is one of 14 national areas that have privately owned minerals beneath them.National Parks Conservation Association
/ Source: staff and news service reports

The Sierra Club alleges in a lawsuit that the Bush administration changed a rule so oil and gas producers could more easily drill under national parks and reserves from outside their boundaries.

The environmental group alleges in the suit filed Wednesday that a November 2003 rule change affects 14 national parks that have privately owned minerals beneath them.

"Documents obtained by Sierra Club through the Freedom of Information Act show that the Bush administration changed the rule specifically at the request of Ross Davis, who runs Davis Brothers Oil Producers," the group said in a statement. "Moreover, the administration made its decision in secret and bypassed the regular rulemaking process, which allows for public input and a high degree of transparency." 

The suit asks the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia for an immediate injunction to reverse the change it alleges, and also to drop drilling.

The National Park Service denied the allegation.

“That is so untrue. There has been no change from the Bush administration, from the Clinton administration,” said Carol McCoy, a Denver-based National Parks Service spokeswoman. “Nothing has been done outside the public process.”

Oil and gas producers can drill at an angle to reach privately owned minerals from private land adjacent to a park.

Under a 1979 rule, the National Park Service must study such drilling plans and their possible impacts to the park or adjacent land. Also, the drilling company was required to submit environmental impact analyses.

But the Sierra Club alleges that since late 2001 the National Park Service has been allowing directional drilling without such impact analyses. The environmental studies required of drilling companies also have been reduced, the group says.

The Sierra Club says the drilling or its equipment could cause problems with air and water pollution or noise problems. It also says trucks traveling on roads near the park could be an issue. The group also is concerned about what damage any accidents, such as well blowouts, might cause.