Up in the Air Federal Government Is Unleashing a Flood of Oil and Gas Leases in the West, Leaving Parks Surrounded

NPCA worked with aerial photographer Chris Boyer to document the spectacular beauty and serious threats to five national parks in the Southwest where oil and gas development is rapidly encroaching on the landscape.

Story and maps by Nicholas Lund. All photos by Chris Boyer of Kestrel Aerial Services.

The Trump administration’s rush to put public land in the hands of oil and gas companies is threatening to strand our national parks in a sea of industrial development. The federal government is set to auction off more than 2 million acres before the end of the year, including parcels near Canyonlands National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Petrified Forest National Park and others.

These sales are the latest from an administration that has made it official policy to lease as much land as possible, as quickly as possible, with as little environmental review and public input as possible.

This photo: Development outside of Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. At top of page: Development outside Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah.

Since Secretary Ryan Zinke took helm of the Department of the Interior last year, the agency has conducted more frequent lease sales while collecting little to no public comment and conducting virtually no environmental reviews of the impact development could have on nearby lands, including national parks. Since the start of 2017, the agency has offered oil and gas leases near more than 20 national park landscapes. More leases will go up for sale this September and December, with the potential to damage public lands for decades to come.

NPCA recently worked with photographer Chris Boyer of Kestrel Aerial Services to highlight at-risk landscapes in the Southwest. He flew over Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to capture unique views of some of the national park landscapes that could soon be surrounded by drilling.

Dinosaur National Monument

1. Steamboat Rock at the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers in Dinosaur National Monument.

Straddling the Utah-Colorado border, Dinosaur National Monument protects the incredible vistas along the Green River, as well as petroglyphs and the monument’s namesake fossils. Oil and gas development encroaches on all sides of the park and threatens to further degrade its air quality, which is already among the nation’s poorest due to existing oil and gas drilling.

2. Top left: Looking west toward Ripping Brook in the Colorado section of the park. 3. Top right: Looking southwest toward the Dinosaur visitor center and Jensen, Utah. 4. Bottom: Heavily developed area just a few miles south of the Dinosaur National Monument border in Utah. These spiderwebs of development are creeping closer to the park boundary on all sides in both Colorado and Utah.
Map showing the locations of the above four photos in relation to the national monument.

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

1. Canyonlands National Park north of Cedar Mesa, with South Six Shooter Peak on the right.

The national parks near Moab, Utah, are some of the most famous in the world. Arches and Canyonlands National Parks provide incredible red-rock vistas to millions of visitors per year. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is allowing oil and gas development close to both parks, including leases in the San Rafael Desert area within a mile of Canyonlands’ Horseshoe Canyon Unit.

2. Top left: The Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands National Park protects some of the most significant rock art in the nation. 3. Top right: Upper Courthouse Wash, north of Seven Mile Canyon in Arches National Park. 4. Bottom: Oil development on The Knoll, west of Highway and Grand View Point Road between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
Map showing the locations of the above four photos in relation to the national parks.

Hovenweep National Monument

1. The Holly Group and Keeley Canyon at Hovenweep National Monument.

More than 2,500 people lived in prehistoric villages tucked into a small canyon in what is now southeast Utah. They built stone towers and other structures that still stand more than 800 years later, protected as part of Hovenweep National Monument. Unfortunately, the areas surrounding the site are being rapidly leased for oil and gas development, threatening to degrade these incredible structures and the experience of visiting them.

2. and 3. Top left and right: Views of Little Ruin Canyon at Hovenweep National Monument. 4. Bottom: Oil well along Hovenweep Road, north of Hovenweep National Monument and west of Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.
Map showing the locations of the above four photos in relation to the national monument.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

1. Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwest New Mexico protects ruins of the Ancestral Puebloan people who lived in the area between 850 and 1250 AD. They built incredible structures out of stone, featuring multiple stories and dozens of rooms. The park’s remote location imparts an essential experience of the desert Southwest and contributed to Chaco Culture’s designation as an International Dark Sky Park in 2013. Now, that desert solitude is threatened by oil and gas development surrounding the park on all sides.

2. Top left: Kin Kletso, which means “Yellow House” in Navajo, at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. 3. Top right: Looking east toward Chaco Culture across a quintessential desert landscape. 4. Bottom: The scars of oil wells and roads on the landscape north of the park.
Map showing the locations of the above four photos in relation to the national historical park.

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Created By
Nick Lund


Chris Boyer/Kestrel Aerial Services

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