CASPER, Wyo. — Grand Teton National Park could be among the country's national parks put at risk by oil-and-gas wells, according to results of a newly released study.
In an assessment of oil-and-gas drilling in or near national parks, the National Parks Conservation Association found that Teton is suffering effects from well fields as far away as the Upper Green River Basin, a major natural gas development area.
The park is about 50 miles north of the northern edge of oil-and-gas activity in the area. There is no drilling or production in Grand Teton National Park.
Among the Grand Teton impacts cited in the study were blocked antelope migration corridors and reduced air quality. The results were enough to concern the association.
"These are national treasures and state treasures," said Sharon Mader, NPCA program director for Grand Teton. "Tourism is one of the driving aspects of our economy in Wyoming, and we need to use the precautionary principle" to protect parks.
A spokeswoman for Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., indicated support for and confidence in the industry Thursday.
"Wyoming has shown that we can protect the environment and create good jobs at the same time," Barrasso spokeswoman Laura Mengelkamp wrote in an email. "Our state has led the way with effective hydraulic fracturing regulations that apply to private, state and federal lands."
A spokeswoman for Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., didn't comment on the report specifically, but issued a statement generally supportive of advanced oil-and-gas production technologies.
At least one representative of the oil-and-gas industry had trouble accepting the study's results.
"We made mitigation efforts years ago to take care of those issues by giving up some leases they said were in the migration corridor," said Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. "I'm not sure it’s oil and gas that’s the problem, it’s just people living and working. That’s always going to be a problem."
Hinchey added that producers near the park have also taken measures to reduce emissions, including switching from diesel drilling rigs to natural gas-operated equipment.
The area near Pinedale was recently classified as a problem pollution area by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, largely because of drilling activity. The state has three years to bring down levels of ozone, a toxic gas.
Mader said the park study was built on prior science, including tagging studies performed on Teton-area antelope. The park also acquired its own air-monitoring tower about two years ago, and preliminary data shows possible pollution.
"We have evidence suggesting that not only oil and gas but coal pollution is migrating," she said, adding that more definitive study is ongoing. "We are very anxious to see what the results of that data are, beginning to draw conclusions about sources of pollution and how to address that."
The study also includes oil-and-gas effects on a number of other national parks, including the flaring rigs that can be seen from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, concerns about whether proposed drilling adjacent to Glacier National Park would affect its air quality, and concerns about whether hydraulic fracturing would contaminate water in other parks.
Hydraulic fracturing is an oil-and-gas production technique wherein water, sand and chemicals are pumped into a well to break rock and free trapped resources.
The study offers a number of recommendations, including requesting that the industry pay for a water-monitoring plan in national parks and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency move up implementation of proposed rules to cut ozone and other toxic emissions.
Mader said despite the tone of the study, she agrees that Wyoming is still among the leading states in adopting mitigation practices, and hopes the national park system will be allowed to participate in nearby leasing decisions moving forward.
"It’s important for people to understand that parks like Grand Teton are not islands," she said. "It’s very appropriate for the National Parks Service to have a formal consulting role and to be able to weigh in on concerns surrounding oil and gas."