Oversight and Management of Natural Gas Operations
On September 28, 1962, Padre Island National Seashore was established by Congress, “to save and preserve, for purposes of public recreation, benefit, and inspiration, a portion of the diminishing seashore of the United States that remains undeveloped” (U.S.D.I. National Park Service 1983). The enabling legislation stipulates that all mineral rights within the national seashore are retained by the original grantors of the property. Provisions are also made for mineral recovery.
A primary management objective of the National Park Service (NPS) is to “fulfill the commitment to previous property owners by ensuring their ability to recover the oil and gas mineral resources with a minimum of environmental consequences”, outlined in our General Management Plan. (U.S.D.I. National Park Service 1983). At the time Padre Island National Seashore was established, surface and mineral ownership was held by the State of Texas or private landowners.
The NPS regulates non-federal oil and gas development in its units under the standards and procedures published in the Code of Federal Regulations, title 36, part 9, subpart B (36 CFR 9B). The 9B regulations fall within the scope of authority granted to the NPS from Congress under the NPS Organic Act. This authority includes the power to regulate conduct that occurs on or off federal lands which may affect federal lands.
The regulations are designed to control conduct associated with private mineral rights on federal land to avoid or minimize to impacts park resources and values. Thus, the United States need not own the mineral interest beneath Padre Island National Seashore to regulate rights associated with that interest that may affect the federally-owned surface.
In March 2001, Padre Island National Seashore developed an Oil and Gas Management Plan, providing a comprehensive framework for the NPS to manage the exploration, development, and transportation of nonfederal oil and gas. The Plan can not effect substantive change to the laws and regulations governing the management of park resources. Changes to NPS’s governing laws and regulations are made either by Congress or by the NPS through rulemaking under the Administrative Procedures Act.
These regulations require a prospective operator to submit a proposed Plan of Operations to the NPS for review and approval. Other management provisions are also applied to the permitting process. An Enviromental Assessment (EA) is prepared, describing environmental effects associated with the proposed operation and alternatives. Cultural resource protection, endangered and threatened species, reclamation and mitigation requirements, bond requirements, and other pertinent topics are addressed. The documents then undergo a 30-day public and agency review and comment period. Based on the EA and the public comments, the Regional Director determines if approval of the proposed Plan of Operations is not a major federal action significantly affecting the environment. If so, a Finding of No Significant Impact is prepared.
Many are surprised to learn that oil and gas development has occurred at Padre Island National Seashore since the early 1950’s, prior to the establishment of the park. Currently, southern Texas, including Padre Island National Seashore, is experiencing a period of new drilling. The NPS will continue to manage these activities to protect park values and purposes as directed by Congress.