On Sacred Ground: The Fracking of Our National Parks


A whole new front is opening up in the fracking debate, and it involves some of America’s most prized natural treasures. It turns out that dozens of our national parks are at risk from gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.

Most Americans believe our state and federal parks are protected from any sort of industry encroachment, but a look at the fine print shows that many of our national parks were created without acquiring mineral rights. And now we find that many of those parks sit atop the natural gas-rich region known as Marcellus Shale or offer access to the deeper Utica Shale formation. That puts our parks directly in the cross hairs of an increasingly aggressive drilling industry, and adds fuel to an already divisive debate over the much-criticized extraction process known as fracking.

The Beacon Journal newspaper in Akron, Ohio, is running a story on the threat of fracking to the 32,950-acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which the paper notes is already the No. 3 national park in the eastern half of the nation for active wells. The challenge is determining who controls what, and this is true of many parks created over the last 50 years. In Cuyahoga Valley, the Park Service owns roughly 18,768 acres of the park, and about 14,182 acres are owned by metro park districts and private interests. To further confuse issues of jurisdiction, the Park Service owns the mineral rights on only 5 percent of those 18,768 acres, reports the Beacon Journal, citing Patrick O’Dell, a Colorado-based petroleum engineer.

Making matters worse for the parks is that some of the local governments that you might expect to protect the lands are already firmly on the industry side of the issue – in fact, they have wells of their own. For example, the City of Akron has 88 wells in Cuyahoga Valley.

It’s unclear exactly how many other state and national parks are at risk from the ravages of fracking, but it looks like dozens in the eastern portion of the country alone. The Beacon Journal story notes that “…in late 2009, the park service issued a 26-page report that said 35 national park units in eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee were vulnerable to Marcellus drilling.”

The Beacon Journal has emerged as a regional news leader on the Ohio drilling issues. You can find the park story here: http://www.ohio.com/news/top_stories/119137734.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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  • […] When Europeans settled in the Americas, they brought with them a deep seated fear of the untamed wilderness which they were surrounded by. Many of the religious and social doctrines of the time regarded the forest and wildlife with dark mystery. They saw nature as nothing more than a filthy, disorganized, mess and claimed that was something of the devils creation. Someone needed to tame and conquer the dwelling of the beast. You can see this attitude reflected in many of the attitudes that we hold today. Culturally, we are extremely separate from the natural world. We designate areas in which nature is allowed to flourish and exist and we call these “national parks.” Even in such areas we tend to denigrate the natural order of things (see: fracking in our national parks). […]

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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