Talbot: Fracking in national parks threatens conservation efforts

Although national parks are—by definition—federally protected lands, they are not always protected from one inherently harmful activity: hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

President Barack Obama’s administration has technically banned fracking on lands owned by the federal government and Native American tribes, but the ban doesn’t always hold up. The land around these lands is fair game, threatening the ecosystems within them.

Fracking is the method used to extract up to 90 percent of domestic oil and natural gas in the United States. It involves injecting hundreds of chemical compounds into the ground to push up the fossil fuels that are locked away in the Earth. Fracking has been linked to manmade earthquakes, contaminated water, assorted health problems and a high risk of death on the job.

North Dakota—home to a large supply of American oil—also happens to be the location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, perhaps the most unfortunate and well-known example of fracking near federal lands gone wrong. Drills and signs warning visitors of poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas surround the park. Left unchecked, the industry can and will destroy it from the outside in, and numerous other parks from Pennsylvania to Colorado are similarly threatened.

Fracking may be illegal here in New York State for now, but there are no guarantees for the future. Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially instituted the ban in December 2014, but it’s non-permanent and could easily be lifted by a future administration amid growing resistance and threats of secession from border counties.

Though there are certainly plenty of humanity-related reasons for limiting fracking—such as carbon emissions, human rights and human health—there is also the matter of what happens to the land we frack on, regardless of whether or not there is a human population living there to breathe the water and drink the air.

If the ban were ever lifted in New York, places like Letchworth State Park could be fair game—and all of its multispecies residents would have no voice to speak out against the assault on their habitats. Meanwhile, across the country, ecosystems surrounding and within supposedly protected lands are already under attack.

For climate deniers and anti-environmentalists, even money is not always on the side of the frackers. The domestic oil and gas market has recently taken a nosedive, with several new fracking companies filing for bankruptcy. So, on top of being destructive and dangerous, fracking is often not even profitable.

There are certainly economic benefits to protecting parks, too. These national parks bring in money and tourists tend to be more inclined to visit a peaceful, picturesque field than an oil field.

Taken together, these moral and economic objections should be more than enough to start a green energy revolution—or, at the very least, to pass some stricter regulations regarding who can frack where. Our elected officials may waver on the subject, but public opinion counts for a lot.

If we as citizens collectively allow conservation to fall by the wayside, we will have no one to blame but ourselves when there is no wilderness left.