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Oil, Gas and Mining Industries Stake Claim to Most of U.S.' Natural Treasures

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, April 13, 2005

(WASHINGTON, April 13) -- For decades, the oil and gas and mining industries have complained that they are locked out of access to public lands that could free the U.S. from dependence on foreign energy sources. Now the first-ever investigation of 1,855 taxpayer-owned natural treasures in the West reveals the truth: Drilling and mining interests already control land in or near more than two-thirds of national parks, forests and wilderness areas.

Environmental Working Group's (EWG) computer-assisted analysis of millions of federal land use records found that if current trends continue, in 20 years no national park, forest or other natural treasure will remain free of industry control inside or within five miles of its borders. Despite this widespread access, 15 years of drilling and mining on public lands have produced less than two months' worth of current U.S. oil needs and less than eight months' worth of natural gas. In that period, industry has had access to more than 200 million acres of Western public lands — an expanse larger than Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona combined.

EWG's interactive, web-based atlas allows the public for the first time to view maps of industry control and see just who controls the land in or near each of 1,855 natural treasures in 13 states. It will be available April 13 at http://www.ewg.org.

"These natural treasures are an irreplaceable part of our nation's heritage," said EWG analyst Dusty Horwitt. "But drilling and mining interests already have greater access to public lands than we do — and they still want more."

The history of damage to land, water and wildlife from mining and drilling on public lands belies industry's claims that resource extraction leaves only a modest and short-lived environmental "footprint." EWG's investigation, carried out over more than two years, found well-documented harmful impacts up to 200 miles away from drilling and mining sites.

EWG identifies the natural treasures most at risk of industry encroachment and most urgently in need of permanent protection. The report endorses New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's call for a moratorium on oil and gas leases on environmentally sensitive public lands, and calls for a national energy plan that will move the U.S. away from drilling, mining, importing and burning fossil fuels.

"It doesn't matter if you value these natural treasures as places to play, renew your spirit, ensure clean water or protect wildlife," said Horwitt. "When we drill and mine our natural treasures, we destroy some of the things that make America special. It's time to reclaim these natural treasures as our own."

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.