It is a beautiful day at Padre Island National Seashore. The sun is shining. A light breeze is blowing gently across the dunes. The dump trucks, back loaders, and water trucks are driving busily down the beach toward Yarborough Pass. Wait a moment--why all the heavy equipment in a national park? What is happening here? The answer to that question involves a story of controversy and compromise within the National Seashore. The issue dates back to the 1920's when people first began to dream of creating a protected wilderness beach for public use.
Since protection was first proposed for this beautiful beach, it was obvious to everyone involved that the privately owned mineral rights were too expensive to purchase. The 1935 release of "Our Vanishing Shoreline" helped revitalize the idea of protecting one of our nation's last expanses of wild coastline. As the idea slowly matured, a National Park Service commission, including Regional Director Hugh Miller, was assembled in 1957 to survey the suitability of the area for national seashore designation. Director Miller came to the conclusion that if the mineral rights could not be purchased, there should be no park.
Other groups involved in the studies felt differently. The Board of Trustees of the National Parks Association adopted a resolution finding Padre Island to be nationally significant and suitable for inclusion in the National Park System. They noted the detractive aspects of drilling for minerals but felt these activities could be limited and controlled by agreement. Which choice would you have made if you were on the committee to decide? Would you have sided with Mr. Miller and given up on the national seashore idea, if it included drilling, or would you have chosen to compromise and work to minimize the effects of mineral exploration?
Most viewers today feel congress made the right choice by choosing the challenge of compromise. Concluding that the mineral rights were unaffordable, congress wrote the enabling legislation to guarantee owner access to the minerals.
"Sec. 4.(a) When acquiring land, waters, or interests therein, the Secretary shall permit a reservation by the grantor of all or any part of the oil and gas minerals in such land or waters and of other minerals therein which can be removed by similar means, with the right of occupation and use of so much of the surface of the land or waters as may be required for all purposes reasonably incident to the mining or removal of such from beneath the surface of these lands and water and the lands and waters adjacent thereto, under such regulations as may be prescribed by the Secretary with respect to such mining or removal." (See 16 U.S.C. §459d-3(a).)
Then, as now, the goal of acquiring the mineral rights has always been a legitimate idea. Ultimately though, acquisition of those rights is again up to congress. It is not an issue the National Park Service alone can decide. Today we continue to strive for balance and compromise at Padre Island National Seashore. Our primary mission is to preserve and protect America's special places. As evidence of that commitment the park recently produced the Oil and Gas Management Plan to better address the challenges posed by mineral extraction. The plan strengthened and improved specific rules and regulations that energy companies must follow to minimize impact on the delicate ecosystem.
As is true of many public land issues, there is no perfect solution that works for everyone. Constructive public input representing many viewpoints will ultimately help produce and effective management plan for the National Seashore. It will produce the compromise congress sought between preserving the surface from development while allowing for the extraction of private and state owned mineral resources.