Since the 1870s, the U.S. federal government has designated just under 60 different areas as protected national parks. In addition to these parks, there are over 400 protected areas that span across all 50 states and U.S. territories and cover more than 84 million acres in total. To many, national parks are the crowning jewel—the last stronghold of beauty—that the U.S. is privy to. Despite the environmental degradation the U.S. has taken part in both on and off land, it seems most people feel they can count on national parks as being protected from the negative effects of pollution and environmentally unsustainable energy production, such as drilling for oil. However, in over a dozen national parks, oil drilling is practiced and approved, despite the fact that the very element produced by the drilling ultimately contributes to the degradation of that same natural park, or other natural parks like it.
The need for oil and the need for money is understandable. We need it to live and succeed in our society, especially as much of the infrastructure is built around the assumption that oil and other fossil fuels will be there for us to indefinitely. However, my understanding of national parks is that their mission is to preserve that which has been lost to urbanization, pollution and the overarching effects of fossil fuels. Perhaps this would not happen if the federal government had purchased mineral rights over all the designated protected territory; however, we would not be able to count on that, and outside of theory, we should brace ourselves for the possibility of oil drilling within the boundaries of our national treasures.
President-elect Trump, in his 100-day plan for energy, wishes to “lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas.” Granted, there are many federal areas that are not national parks, but the implication of this statement seems to be that national parks, many of which are rich in fossil fuels, ought to be and will be open to oil companies who wish to explore and drill. Our President-elect believes that doing this will create jobs—and he isn’t entirely incorrect. As is the case with many fossil fuel operations, the establishment of new fossil fuel resources — such as drilling new wells—does create jobs. However, these jobs, like the oil that is pumped out of the ground, are not sustainable, and eventually those jobs will once again be eliminated, as it does not take a large fleet of people to operate and check on an oil well. Despite this, our President-elect would likely be happy to tell anyone who was willing to lend an open ear that the creation of short-term jobs and the profits that will be gleaned from drilling in our national parks would be both numerous and great.
Is the profit worth the ecological disruption that opening federal lands—and national parks—up to drilling will provide? The national parks are considered national treasures for a reason. As places where the ecological systems are protected, animals who might otherwise be threatened due to loss of habitat are able to thrive. If we bring fossil fuel exploration and mining into these areas, the entire intention of a national park or a federally protected area is invalidated. To reiterate, is the ecological disruption and destruction really worth the transitory benefit fossil fuels and the money gleaned from those fossil fuels can provide? Would we not be better investing our time and resources into the development of renewable, “clean” energy? It seems the next four years will be a battleground for what we consider to be protected environments and ecosystems.
Granted, we will not know exactly what President-elect Trump decides to do until he is inaugurated into office next month, and it is well worth noting that drilling in national parks (not exploration—of which there is a great deal) is not terribly common right now. However, by lifting the federal barrier that protects precious habitats and ecosystems from oil companies, oil and fossil fuel harvesting is essentially invited in to pillage our environmental national treasures. As he has done with many of the things he promised his voters, he may decide not to follow through on the admission that opening federal lands to energy production is going one step too far. Though his voters might feel cheated (and rightfully so), I fervently hope President- elect Trump reconsiders this particular goal.
Sarah Liebig is a senior studying English Writing and Global Studies: Worlds in Dialogue. Liebig’s principal interests lie in social justice and environmental concerns. Upon graduation, she intends to study law. Liebig is originally from Lincoln, NE and is the only child of two soil scientists. She shares permanent residence with two cats, Oscar and Ophelia.