Map: Proposed drilling threatens Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Another national park could experience the repercussions of Ryan Zinke’s aggressive drilling strategy
The Bureau of Land Management plans to lease more than 18,000 acres of public lands in Southern Colorado to oil and gas drillers in a September 2018 auction — several of the 11 parcels are within a mile of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Some places are too special to drill, including lands at the doorstep of America’s national parks, but protecting special places is not on Interior Secretary Zinke’s agenda. Oil and gas leasing next to the Great Sand Dunes is the most recent example of the administration’s “energy dominance” push to prioritize production over balanced use, to roll back common sense energy regulations, to open up millions of acres of public lands to development, and allow drilling to threaten our parks.
One of Colorado’s greatest treasures, Great Sand Dunes National Park saw nearly nearly half a million visitors in 2017 — a record high. The park is home to the tallest dunes in North America, whose sands contain species found nowhere else on Earth. The Medano Creek flows seasonally through the park, dependent on snow melt from the 13,300 foot Mount Herald looming to the East of the dunefield. Sitting in a nook of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the park’s lack of light pollution makes it a destination for incredible nighttime stargazing. An initiative is advocating for the park to receive a “dark-sky” designation from the International Dark-Sky Association.
A number of popular trails lead up into the Sangre de Cristos, towards a ridge where future energy development could be visible. Oil and gas drilling and production could have multiple impacts on the area including increased light pollution, air pollution, spills, and habitat destruction. Some have made the dubious argument that the parcels aren’t close enough to warrant concern — but maps tell a very different story.
- Several parcels are within a mile of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve eastern boundary.
- Two parcels border the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area, designated by Congress in 1993.
- Several parcels are within a mile of the popular Medano Lake Trail and Mosca Pass Trail. If Secretary Zinke gets his way, visitors exploring the Sangre de Cristos might one day have to share their experience with industrial oil development as they hike or drive into the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
The lease sale is not popular among Coloradans. Last week, a number of Colorado state senators sent a letter to the Acting Colorado State Bureau of Land Management Director saying, “Drilling near [Great Sand Dunes National Park] would be a disaster for local economies that rely on tourism driven by Southern Colorado’s natural beauty.” The Denver Post recently editorialized on the lease sale calling on Coloradans and the state’s political leaders to “monitor with care proposals to lease federal land parcels for oil and gas development that come as close as one mile to the park.”
Also troubling, these leases are being offered with only minimal public participation thanks to Secretary Zinke’s push to limit input from concerned citizens. The public was given only 15 days to comment on the proposed sale (down from 30), and the Bureau of Land Management said it received 3,000 comments. The public will only be given 10 days (down from 30) to protest controversial leases. The Bureau of Land Management is expected to release a final decision on the lease sale in July.
Unfortunately, the proposed leases at the gateway of the Grand Sand Dunes isn’t the first and won’t be the last time this administration tries to sell out America’s parks to oil and gas companies. Already, companies have bought leases next to Bears Ears, Canyons of the Ancients, Upper Missouri River Breaks, and Hovenweep National Monuments. And the list of places under threat seems to grow by the week.