Drilling and Mining in Store for Two Iconic Southwest Parks

December 31, 2008  10:03 AM

CONTACT: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)  Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337

Drilling and Mining in Store for Two Iconic Southwest Parks; Falling Commodity Prices Brings Brief Reprieve for Petrified Forest and Aztec Ruins

WASHINGTON – December 31. Drilling and mining may soon be affecting Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona and Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico, according to an internal Interior Department document released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Only plummeting commodity prices caused by the current recession have delayed groundbreaking for new natural gas wells and potash mining in or adjacent to the parks.

The Interior briefing for Assistant Secretary Lyle Laverty dated October 5, 2008 outlines pending plans for subsurface extraction on or adjacent to the two parks:

* Aztec Ruins National Monument (NM) “Manana Inc., an energy company, has provided documentation of its legal right to conduct operations in the monument and its intent to drill a Fruitland Coal natural gas well within the monument boundary. It is proposing a location adjacent to the North Ruins, the third largest archeological site in the monument. The monument is conducting internal scoping and considering other possible locations that might be recommended as alternatives. The monument is also processing requests from ConocoPhillips in their interest to develop two new wells, and from XTO Energy, Inc, to extend a gas gathering line to tie in with an existing line already within the monument.”

* Petrified Forest National Park (AZ) “A new study by the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) identifies the size and distribution of a world-class potash deposit in the Holbrook Basin of east-central Arizona, including the southern portion of Petrified Forest National Park and much of the lands Congress authorized for park expansion in 2004. Public release of the study awaits impending approval from the governor’s office. Potash is an essential ingredient in fertilizers. This deposit underlies 600 square miles east of Holbrook, AZ, and was first identified in the 1950s, but not developed because it was not viewed as economically competitive. In the last three years, there has been a ten-fold increase in potash prices with additional rises in the last few months pushing the price up another 50-100%. Calculated tonnage for the entire deposit is 682 million to 2.27 billion metric tons. Approximately 20% of the deposit lies below Petrified Forest National Park and is closed to mining. An additional 30% underlies lands covered by the Petrified Forest Expansion Act of 2004. This discovery will obviously have an impact on land values within the Expansion Act boundaries…”

“Protection of these national parks is now in the hands of the market. The basic problem is that the Bush administration has siphoned away funds for park acquisitions, leaving vital in-holdings and subsurface rights in the hands of private interests,” stated PEER Board Member Frank Buono, a long-time former National Park Service manager, noting that NPS today has only a small fraction of funding it had before Bush for land acquisition. “Using stimulus funds to buy out these interests now will both raise local land values and leave a gift for future generations.”


Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER’s environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.


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