National Wildlife Refuges contain some of this country’s most unique ecosystems and act as safehavens for endangered species and migratory birds. Congress directed the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Refuge ecosystems and the wildlife for the benefit of current and future generations of Americans, recognizing that these resources are important parts of our national heritage. Peter Murrey and Clinic interns submitted comments on behalf of the American Bird Conservancy to the Fish and Wildlife Service urging the agency to strengthen proposed rules governing private oil and gas drilling in these sensitive areas.
CLC praised much of the proposed rule. Existing oil and gas regulations are more than fifty years old. FWS’ proposed rule requires all new and modified oil and gas operations on Refuge lands to obtain a permit and implement technologically feasible, least damaging methods to minimize damage to Refuge ecosystems and wildlife. If properly enforced, the proposed rule will protect Refuges from many impacts associated with oil and gas operations, such as toxic spills, open pits that kill wildlife, and harmful air emissions.
CLC pointed out two main problems in the proposed rule. First, the rule exempts operations on private land within and near Refuges even though FWS has acknowledged that these operations can significantly affect Refuge resources. Second, the rule exempts existing operations on Refuges, allowing operations with outdated technology to continue polluting Refuges. We urged FWS to follow to lead of its sister public land agency the National Park Service, which proposes to regulate all existing oil and gas operations within Parks and all operations on privately owned inholdings within Park boundaries. These changes to the proposed rule are necessary to comply with the strong conservation mandate Congress set for the Refuge System.