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National Park Service Proposes Tightening Oil/Gas Regulations

The National Park Service (NPS) is proposing an end to regulatory provisions that exempt about 60% of oil and natural gas operations on national park land from oversight by the agency.

The NPS also proposes to revamp other rules in an effort to "provide greater clarity and certainty to industry," improve its ability to protect park resources and protect visitors from potentially adverse impacts of oil and gas operations.

The updated regulations would also eliminate the cap on bonding for oil and gas development on NPS land (the cap is currently fixed at $200,000 per park), allow NPS to charge fees for new access beyond that held as part of operators' mineral rights, add a new well-plugging provision, and increase the agency's enforcement powers. The proposed rule was published Monday in the Federal Register.

"We have a fundamental responsibility to conserve park resources for the enjoyment of future generations and the changes we've proposed will clarify the process for oil and gas development in the small group of parks where current operations exist, and for parks who may manage operations in the future," said NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

The proposed rule would apply NPS regulations to operations that are currently exempt and any future oil and gas operations in the National Park System. Currently, there are a total of 534 non-federal oil and gas operations in 12 of the 408 parks in the National Park System. The 12 units are Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas), Aztec Ruins National Monument (New Mexico), Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida), Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas), Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee/Kentucky), Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Tennessee), Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio), Gauley River National Recreation Area (West Virginia), Lake Meredith National Recreation Area (Texas), New River Gorge National River (West Virginia), Obed Wild and Scenic River (Tennessee), and Padre Island National Seashore (Texas). The proposed changes could affect up to 30 other parks, NPS said.

NPS estimates that the annualized cost to operators under the proposed rule would be about $1,650 per well. Cost factors in the proposed rule include bringing previously exempt operations into compliance with NPS standards, ensuring well site reclamation by updating financial assurance requirements, compensating for the use of federal lands outside operators' oil and gas right, and recovering permitting costs.

The current regulations were promulgated by NPS in 1978.

A public comment period for the proposal is open until Dec. 28.

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