Climate + Energy

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Targeted for Fracking


Carsbad Caverns NP Michael Welch

Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Photo credit: Michael Welch, Flickr.

Our Public Lands Are Under Attack

Almost every action that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has taken since being appointed has been an attempt to grease the skids for the fossil fuel industry to buy up and destroy public lands in the American West.

First, there was was the drastic reduction of the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, all because oil, gas, and coal interests wanted to exploit the minerals underneath. Next, it was opening up waters off the coast of Alaska, and most of the continental U.S., for oil and gas exploration. Then, it was the issuance of numerous secretarial orders streamlining oil and gas permitting and arbitrarily restricting National Environmental Policy Act reviews for all projects on federal public lands, including oil and gas. The list goes on.

And, while this onslaught has been occurring, Zinke has also been targeting National Parks across the American West for oil and gas drilling and fracking.  The latest in the line up is the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico.

NPS Carlsbad Caverns

The entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Photo credit, NPS, Peter Jones.

The Latest Target: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

President Calvin Coolidge established Carlsbad Caverns as a national monument in 1923, declaring it:

a limestone cavern known as the Carlsbad Cave, of extraordinary proportions and of unusual beauty and variety of natural decoration; . . . beyond the spacious chambers that have been explored, other vast chambers of unknown character and dimensions exist; . . . the several chambers contain stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations in such unusual number, size, beauty of form, and variety of figure as to make this a cavern equal, if not superior, in both scientific and popular interest to the better known caves.”

Today the area is known as Carlsbad Caverns National Park and is home to 119 geologically-unique caves and perhaps more, undiscovered caves.  Last year, over 520,000 people visited the park, the largest number of visitors since 1998.

Unfortunately, Secretary Zinke could care less about the American people and the natural wonders of the West. Instead of expanding protections for the park, Zinke’s Bureau of Land Management is proposing to allow fracking for oil and gas less than a mile from the boundary of the park.  The September 6, 2018 oil and gas lease sale opens up 197 parcels, 71,000 acres, of publicly-owned lands, 25 of which are within 10 miles of the park.


Click to access an interactive map of the oil and gas lease sale parcels. All geographic information system data obtained from BLM.

It sounds too absurd to be true. Zinke is proposing to frack in an area renown for its fragile, unique geologic formations. But, not only is it true, to top it all off, the Bureau of Land Management is very likely to approve the project based on an environmental analysis that is 30 years old. And, because the plan is so old, it completely fails to analyze any of the impacts of fracking.

Fracking means thousands of semis tearing up rural roads and kicking up dust, massive increases in air pollution and greenhouse gases, and large-scale water use for fracking. There are also concerns about water contamination from frack fluids, earthquakes from wastewater disposal, and the social impacts on communities that result from an influx of new people.

Is it really worth the risk? For us, it’s a resounding NO.

Carlsbad Caverns Draperies NPS Shawn Thomas

A formation known as draperies cascades down from the ceiling.

Guardians is already gearing up to protect the park. On April 20, 2018, Guardians submitted scoping comments pointing out the many pitfalls with the location of the  September 2018 lease parcels, and the absurdity of using an ancient environmental analysis. And, last fall Guardians protested both the September and December 2017 lease sales, which also proposed leases near the park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado Also At Risk

Unfortunately, threats of fracking near our national parks are becoming a common occurrence. Secretary Zinke is also proposing to lease 18,000 acres of land right next to Great Sand Dunes National Park in southcentral Colorado in September.

Great Sand Dunes Flickr Patrick Myers

Sunset at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Photo credit: NPS, Patrick Myers, Flickr.

The park is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America and provides vital wildlife habitat and migration corridors for elk, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep. The park is also renown for its dark night skies.

If approved, these leases would allow the oil and gas industry to frack within a mile of the park’s eastern boundaries.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 2.35.02 PM

Click for an interactive map of the leases near Great Sand Dunes.

But, again, Guardians, and a number of other conservation groups are fighting this backward proposal.  On April 6, 2018, we submitted extensive comments opposing Zinke’s plans to allow fracking near the dunes.  And, despite Zinke’s efforts to cut the public out of the process with a shortened 15-day comment period, the Bureau of Land Management received almost 5,000 comments on the lease sale.

The message is clear: we will not stand silently by while Zinke undermines the heart of the American West, our public lands.

Glimmers of Hope: Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, Yellowstone National Park

There’s no doubt that the more voices we gather, the greater our chances at success.

Last month Guardians and our allies won huge victories when Zinke was forced to back down from plans to auction off public lands in New Mexico near Chaco Culture National Historical Park and in Montana near Yellowstone National Park.

Guardians worked closely with indigenous voices, local groups, and Congressional delegations in both areas to increase the pressure on Zinke. Check out our blog post on the victories for more information.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico

But, the fight is not over.  Zinke’s deferrals are just that, deferrals of the fight to a later date. And, so our work continues, and it’s on to the next threat.

Yet, there is no doubt that it’s worth it to protect the people, the wildlife, the views (during the day and the night), our clean air and water, and the opportunity for future generations to experience all of this in the years to come.  Back to work!

Great Sand Dunes at Night, Patrick Myers, NPS

Great Sand Dunes National Park at night. Photo credit: NPS, Patrick Myers, Flickr.

1 reply »