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Interior secretary to receive Theodore Roosevelt National Park protection petition

During a trip to North Dakota in August, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said it was important for energy interests in the state to extract oil and gas with less impact on the environment.

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This week the Dakota Resource Council an-nounced it is sending a petition with more than 10,000 signatures to Jewell, urging the secretary to do what she can to help protect Theodore Roosevelt National Park from what has been dubbed as “encroaching oil development.”

DRC senior field organizer Scott Skokos said Wednesday that the plan is for the petition — which was rolled out in late August — to be hand-delivered to Jewell later this month.

About 10,260 supporters of the cause were able to sign their names via mega-petition website, Skokos said.

“It just kind of went viral with a national audience,” Skokos said. “Our ultimate goal is to make it so that there’s a buffer zone between energy development and the park. We want to limit the viewshed impacts and not have visitors’ sightlines disturbed coming into the park or even while they’re in the park.”

Conservationists and citizens alike — including TRNP Superintendent Valerie Naylor — have expressed concern in recent months following a number of public dust-ups involving the park and the energy industry.

Though the request was eventually withdrawn amid public pressure, ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy staked out a drilling site just steps from the historic Elkhorn Ranch in early 2013. More recently, an early-December malfunction of BTA Oil Producers equipment released nearly 30,000 gallons of chemical saltwater near a tributary of the Little Missouri River in Billings County, several miles from TRNP’s South Unit.

Oil and gas industry infrastructure and flares can also clearly be seen at different locations in both of the park’s main units, but Naylor said it’s not just sightlines that are being or could be impacted — wildlife, clean air and other aspects of the park are also affected.

“We’re always appreciative of any supportive for the national park,” Naylor said. “I would favor anything that protects the park because that is our treasure. I’m not endorsing a best way to approach that today, but I think we all need to keep it in mind as the energy development in western North Dakota increases. We need to think about the park being a resource that extends beyond its legal boundaries.”

DRC officials stated the petition received signatures from individuals from all 50 states and two U.S. territories.

“The sheer number of signatures, combined with the broad support from throughout the U.S.,” DRC chair Linda Weiss said, “show that both North Dakotans and the American people value Theodore Roosevelt National Park.”

News of a final number for the petition — which is being supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Parks Conservation Association — comes just before Thursday’s Industrial Commission meeting, where the topic of a list of “extraordinary places,” an idea state officials have pondered for several months, is on the agenda.

Saying she’s “certainly interested in what’s going to happen,” Naylor said she plans to attend the meeting in Bismarck.

Those who signed the DRC petition had the option to also leave comments about why they chose to put their name down, something White Earth resident Rosella Person took advantage of.

“Not only is the park important to North Dakota,” Person said. “It is also a national treasure. The history of the area alone should make this important enough to save from the ravages of any type of development.”

While speaking at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, D.C., in on Oct. 31, Jewell said the DOI will “always take the long view” on development that encroaches on parks and other valued public lands “even when our budgets don’t.” A request to the DOI by The Press to reach Jewell for comment on Wednesday was denied, though DOI spokesperson Emily Beyer pointed to Jewell’s comments on Halloween.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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