Contact: Cindy Hoffman 202/208-3008
Director’s Statement on the Release of General Accounting Office Report Examining Oil and Gas Activities on National Wildlife Refuges
The General Accounting Office report released earlier today examines the long-standing issue of oil and gas activities that take place on lands in our National Wildlife Refuge System. This is a challenging issue and one that the Service has been working to address for about 70 years.
Today, the refuge system includes 542 units, more than 3,000 waterfowl production areas, and covers more than 95 million acres of land.
The GAO report addresses an issue the Service has dealt with over decades. Indeed, one of the Service’s biggest challenges with respect to oil and gas activities that take place on its lands is that in nearly all cases the agency does not own the subsurface mineral rights. Oil and gas activities – past or present – are identified on 28 percent of our refuges. At the end of last year, for example, slightly more than 4,400 oil and gas wells existed on 105 refuges. More than half of those wells are plugged and abandoned, or temporarily idled. Half of the remaining 1,806 active wells are located on five refuge units.
The GAO report is exhaustive and we appreciate the interest of many partners in the future of the refuge system as we work to address some of today’s challenges facing our refuge managers that include oil and gas activities and impacts such as coastal erosion, the presence of invasive species that threaten the health of many of our refuges, and an operations and maintenance funding backlog that exceeds $1.5 billion.
We are reviewing the report in detail now and take seriously its recommendations. For example, FWS is working on a draft handbook for covering management of oil and gas activities on refuges. Upon completion of the handbook, it is expected that training on these issues will follow in regions that have oil and gas activities on refuges. The Service will continue to work with owners of these mineral rights in an effort to build and maintain partnerships and minimize the adverse impacts of these activities on our fish and wildlife resources.
We know where the challenges are and we are working to address them. This report and the ongoing work of the refuge system’s partners will help us in that endeavor.
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