The National Park Service under President Bush has given the green light to "an aggressive drilling campaign" that could involve drilling 20 or more natural gas wells on Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. And it did so without formally consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as required by the Endangered Species Act.
"It's a case of -- perhaps literally -- running over a critically endangered species on the way to pocketing profits on public lands," George Frampton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and assistant secretary of the interior for fish, wildlife and parks under President Clinton, told BushGreenwatch.
"It is disturbing that the Interior Department would fail to get a formal opinion from their own biologists before allowing the drilling."
In 2002, BNP Petroleum of Texas began drilling its first well in the park, the longest undeveloped barrier beach in the world. Park Service approval for a third drilling permit is likely soon, despite the use of the island by the Kemp's ridley sea turtle every spring for nesting.
Each drilling operation involves plowing an access road through the dunes, allowing hundreds of trips by tractor-trailer trucks up and down the beach, bulldozing a square-mile site or more for each well pad, and installing a 100-foot-tall rig, according to Fred Richardson, a Texas volunteer with the Sierra Club who has monitored the issue.
The drilling puts in jeopardy 25 years of work by the Park Service to bring back the Kemp's ridley sea turtle in the U.S. They are the smallest and most critically endangered type of sea turtle in the world, with only about 3,000 to 5,000 adults remaining. Padre Island is also the only U.S. location where all five protected species of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico have nested.
The main risk to turtles is the heavy trucks on the beach. The trucks could crush nests or pack down the sand so that hatchlings are unable to emerge from nests. Even the vibrations from rumbling trucks can increase the likelihood of embryonic damage or mortality, according to the species' official "Sea Turtle Recovery Plan."
When Padre Island was named a national seashore in 1962, the rights to minerals underneath the island remained in private hands. Over the years, limited gas exploration has taken place, but after 1973, production fell off.
"When the Bush Administration came into power, the oil companies decided to launch an aggressive drilling campaign," said Sanjay Narayan, a Sierra Club attorney who unsuccessfully sued to stop the drilling.
Richardson said another serious impact of the noise, traffic and sight of the drilling is on the recreational experience for park visitors. And on that, the National Park Service has refused to conduct a survey of visitor opinions.
"The Bush Administration doesn't want to hear what visitors have to say," Richardson said. "Their agenda is that all public lands are open for business."
I mean, I know it's the charasmatic megafauna, but this is really blatant. Please write your senators. I have.