Are Yellowstone's Geysers At Risk From BLM's Leasing Proposals?
The geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park were largely responsible for its designation as the world's first national park in 1872. These features are a global treasure. Nowhere else in the world can you find the array or number of geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles found in Yellowstone. More than 75 percent of the world's geysers, including the world's largest are in Yellowstone’s seven major basins.
In almost every other geyser area in the world, including those in New Zealand, Iceland, China and elsewhere in the United States, development has seriously affected or permanently destroyed the thermal features of those areas. Yellowstone’s thermal features lie in the only essentially undisturbed geyser basins left worldwide. In Iceland and New Zealand, geothermal drill holes and wells 2.5 - 6.2 miles away have reduced geyser activity and hot spring discharge. Ten miles north of Yellowstone, research has demonstrated that the LaDuke Hot Springs are connected to geothermal features within Yellowstone.
The Bureau of Land Management is currently developing a plan for the leasing of geothermal resources on BLM- and U.S. Forest Service-administered lands in the western United States and Alaska. In technical terms, BLM is developing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. Come again? Well, boiled down to the basics, the plan will examine the impacts of geothermal leasing on BLM and Forest Service lands. And, it will guide the process for determining what lands should be made available for geothermal leasing.
While this plan will not propose leasing of geothermal resources within Yellowstone National Park (or any NPS-managed lands for that matter), the BLM and Forest Service lands surrounding the Park will come into play.
Any activity that might interfere with the natural function of any geothermal feature or hydraulically linked aquifer in Yellowstone National Park should be avoided. When current science and technology cannot provide absolute assurance regarding the effect of a proposed action on geothermal resources in Yellowstone Park, then that activity should be prohibited on federal land and private lands with federal mineral rights.
The Bureau of Land Management is accepting comments on its proposal through this coming Monday, August 13th. If you care about protecting Yellowstone’s unique geothermal features, you can learn more at this site. You can weigh in by sending an email to . Below are some talking points you might want to consider:
1) Any activity that might interfere with the natural function of any geothermal feature or hydraulically linked aquifer in Yellowstone Park should be avoided. When current science and technology cannot provide absolute assurance regarding the effect of a proposed action on geothermal resources in Yellowstone Park, then that activity should be prohibited on federal land and private lands with federal mineral rights.
2) Use of geothermal resources as an energy source should not be pursued in areas where a hydrologic link with Yellowstone National Park geothermal features is possible. A permanent ban should be placed on all geothermal development on federal lands within a 15-mile radius of Yellowstone Park. The protected area should be expanded to fully incorporate the Island Park Geothermal Area (a minimum of 32 miles outside Yellowstone Park) and, in Montana, to follow the boundaries defined in the Yellowstone Compact.
3) All drilling proposed to occur in Geothermal Resource Areas must be monitored and regulated to prevent irreversible secondary effects on geothermal systems.
4) Prohibit geothermal leasing within Wild and Scenic River corridors, BLM Wilderness Study Areas, riparian areas, wetlands or other special habitat types on federal lands.
5) Prohibit geothermal leasing on all Forest Service lands designated as Roadless, Wilderness Study Areas, or Recommended Wilderness.
6) All individual geothermal leasing applications should be evaluated on a case by case basis in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
Amy McNamara is the national parks program director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.