Treasured Parks and Water Quality in the Mountain West: Two More Reasons to Ban Fracking on Federal Lands
This blog is the first in a series highlighting national treasures that could be affected by natural gas development should President Obama allow fracking to move forward near federal lands.
Vast, otherworldly, humbling. This is red rock country. Notable to Utah, it is a place of wonder. It is a place where I have spent days happily lost, wandering about deep slot canyons and standing atop spires of sandstone, gazing out at fields of hoodoos that look as if they have been melted by the sun. I have spent nights wrapped in my sleeping bag beside canyon walls, craggy silhouettes against a sky spattered with stars. I have woken up to those same canyon walls illuminated pink by the light of dawn, beckoning a new day of adventure.
The stillness of the desert was only broken when little geckos scurried from one rock to the next. The quietness was only cut when a fellow wanderlust would call out to no one: “Cooo-cooooo!” It’s sound reverberating.
And then there is the river, and the languid days I have spent lying like a lizard on the red rocks that form the banks of the Colorado. With all the strength it can muster, the river flows and winds through the canyon lands, carrying downstream whatever snowmelt ran off the Rocky Mountain peaks that year. I can’t help but think how the mighty river that carved this epic landscape now gasps for help.
Utah boasts five national parks, all located in the Colorado River Basin. Furthermore, they are surrounded by federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. If you do not wish to camp directly inside the park, the BLM administers and protects vast amounts of public lands for people to camp on and explore. Like the parks they surround, much of the BLM land in Utah contains rich natural and cultural history.
Having attended college in the Southwest, I had the privilege of being able to experience BLM land and Utah’s National Parks at my leisure. If ever schoolwork was too stressful or our tiny campus was too humdrum, Utah’s landscapes were not far and never ceased to cure my petty ailments. Yes, living close to the area made visits particularly accessible. But the truth is, these areas are mine. They are yours. They are lands to be conserved and protected for the people to enjoy and for the sake of ecology, biodiversity and preservation of history. But they are now threatened: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and adjacent BLM land are located in an area of Utah eyed for fracking.
While there are myriad reasons to ban fracking in the U.S., and near these lands in particular, the potential effects of drilling and fracking on local water supplies are especially concerning. The Colorado River and its watershed will see increased air and water pollution if fracking nearby federal lands is permitted any further. In addition to potentially harming the health of visitors, contaminated surface and ground water from accidents, leaks and spills could harm the local wildlife and vegetation of Utah’s National Parks and surrounding public areas. Water contamination also threatens agriculture in the West, which relies on the Colorado River for irrigation. In addition, greenhouse gasses emitted from the fracking process will accelerate climate change; methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This could lead to the perpetuation of severe droughts in the region, a factor that has contributed to the Colorado River’s decreasing volume and flow.
National Parks and federal BLM land exist to preserve and protect our landscapes, wildlife, and resources. These lands are not to be given away to the oil and gas industry by the government. I hope, years down the road, I can visit these lands with the same adventuresome and lighthearted spirit I always had, without fearing for my health. I hope their beauty will not be tainted by massive oil and gas wells. I hope the Colorado River watershed, which supplies water to much of the Western United States, will not be destroyed for current and future generations.
Stay tuned for more on our campaign to tell President Obama that natural gas development on federal lands cannot be part of his climate change solution.