THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK, N.D.
Oil drilling in North Dakota is drawing ever closer to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands, where the man who would become the nation’s 26th president sought solace after his wife and mother both died unexpectedly in 1884.
Today, the vistas that soothed Roosevelt’s grief and helped instill his zeal for conservation include oil rigs and flares used to burn off natural gas.
Oil development is forbidden within the park itself, but park officials worry that the flares, lights and noise from drilling just beyond the protected area are sullying the natural spaces cherished by Roosevelt as a young man.
Visitors know “that the park experience is much more than waking up inside the borders and looking around,” said Nick Lund, landscape conservation program manager at the Washington-based National Parks Conservation Association.
The park of more than 70,000 acres sits atop the Bakken shale, an oil-rich rock formation that for decades frustrated drillers who could not coax anything profitable from the ground. But advances in hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling have unlocked huge amounts of petroleum here. North Dakota is the second-biggest oil producer in the U.S. after Texas.
The park, a small slice of the Badlands, is surrounded by the Little Missouri National Grasslands, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Unlike national parks, Forest Service lands can be used for oil and gas extraction. Nearly all of the area is leased for oil and gas development and more than 600 wells have been drilled, according to Babete Anderson, a spokeswoman for the grasslands area.