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The Bureau of Land Management shouldn’t include a parcel bordering the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in a federal oil and gas lease sale. The Tribune editorial board believes, when possible, that we should protect the park from activity that could negatively impact it.

The BLM is taking comments on whether to include the 120-acre parcel that borders the North Unit of the park in the March lease sale. The action is in response to interest in drilling in the area. This is federal land.

Supporters of the park fear drilling in this area could affect wildlife habitat. They also think the noise from the drilling, flaring and traffic would make visiting that area of the park less appealing. It also would change the view from the park with oil rigs in the landscape.

If this was privately owned land the situation would be different. Private landowners should have the right to develop their property, though there are exceptions. There has been drilling near the park, but as the National Parks Conservation Association cautioned, we must be aware of the cumulative effects of development. The park remains an amazing treasure for the state. Visitors can watch buffalo, wild horses, bighorns and more. Hikers, campers and horseback riders can get lost in the beauty and tranquility of the place.

We need to be careful about what we allow to intrude on the park.

The Meridian Energy Group wants to build the Davis Refinery near Belfield. The project is controversial because it’s 3 miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park and opponents fear it could damage the view and harm air quality. Some think the company is trying to avoid a site review by the Public Service Commission by starting small. The company would then expand and hope the PSC would give approval.

The Tribune believes it would be best if the company asked for a site review now. Give the public the information as quickly as possible on the possible impact on the park.

As for the possible oil lease near the North Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent Wendy Ross wrote in comments to the BLM about the park’s concerns with a lease.

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Someone only needs to go to the Little Missouri State Park near Killdeer to get an idea of the impact of development. The situation there is different in that the land around the park is privately owned. There are wells bordering the park and more are scheduled to come. The development has changed the view and the noise from the wells and flaring can be heard. There are still places in the state park where it’s quiet, but the overall situation has changed.

We should do what’s possible to avoid having the national park surrounded by wells.

"The park's exceptional dark night skies, scenic beauty, natural sound and abundant wildlife offer visitors similar experiences to Theodore Roosevelt's adventures in the Little Missouri River Badlands during the 1880s," Ross wrote to BLM.

We need to do everything we can to preserve that experience.

— Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune

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