Over protests by several environmental groups, BNP Petroleum Corp. has received permission to drill two new natural gas wells in the ecologically sensitive Padre Island National Seashore of Texas.

BNP, headquartered in nearby Corpus Christi, TX, would not have the only natural gas drilling operation on the island, but it would be the first approved drilling site in several years. Six natural gas wells operate in the park now, but three are shut down. Historically, the federal park has produced more than 1.7 Tcfe, according to officials.

Padre Island is considered the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The wells will be located about 13 miles south of Malaquite Beach in the federal park. Drilling there has been ongoing since the 1950s, according to Jock Whitworth, a park spokesman. When it was designated a national seashore in 1962, Whitworth said that Texas and private landowners retained mineral rights.

Both the Corpus Christi and Austin, TX-based Sierra Club chapters are protesting the permits’ approval, partly because trucks used during the construction phase will drive along the beach beginning where the road ends at Malaquite Beach, one of the top tourist destinations for the park. The region is considered especially important because the truck route lies in the habitat of the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, which nests there.

Whitworth said the state and federal authorities have determined that BNP’s wells will have no significant impact on the environment. The wells will be sited next to each other on about 3.5 acres. However, BNP will have to construct a road through the dunes to the site, about one-third of a mile from the shore, he said. BNP will drive trucks 13 miles down the beach during construction.

Steve Ray, BNP’s spokesman, said the park and the company completed a year-long review and assessment report on the new wells. He did not know when construction would begin, however, he noted that a larger area could be drilled with less impact to the surface. BNP has oil and gas leases covering 67,440 acres on Padre Island and in the Laguna Madre. It also holds options covering about 30,000 surface acres on Padre Island.

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