SALT LAKE CITY — It may be a modest goal of just $5,000, but a group of independent oil and gas producers launched a first-ever fundraising campaign to help out on maintenance needs at Utah's Canyonlands National Park.
"We'd never done a crowdfunding campaign before, so we thought we would start small," said Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance, which represents about 300 oil and gas exploration and production companies in the West, including Utah.
The 30-day Parks in Wreck crowdfunding campaign launched in mid-July and wraps up in a couple of weeks, with all money going to the nonprofit Friends of Arches and Canyonlands. It is just a little shy of $1,000 toward meeting its goal.
Canyonlands has unmet maintenance needs of $21 million, part of a backlog across the country's national parks that eclipses $11 billion.
Sgamma said the campaign is also designed to generate awareness for the Restore Our Parks Bill that would direct $1.3 billion in oil and gas revenue from nonpark and nonwilderness lands to the U.S. Department of Interior to address the backlog.
"This is a way to take onshore oil and gas revenues and put them directly toward that national parks backlog. It helps chip away at that backlog," Sgamma said, noting about 300 members of Congress from both parties have signed on to bills that direct energy revenue toward the backlog.
"It represents significant revenue for the parks," she said.
Joette Langianese, executive director of Friends of Arches and Canyonlands, conceded there are some challenges around oil and gas development in or near national parks, but this specific campaign was a way to team up to address urgent needs.
"Our organization is very cognizant of who we accept money from and we know there are challenges with development around national parks," she said. "But we saw this as an opportunity to change the message they are the big bad oil and gas developers. They're trying to help our parks."
She added the push around passage of the Restore Our Parks bill is critical.
"It's a creative way for Congress to come up with a solution to help fund our parks."
Environmental and conservation groups have been highly critical of the industry activity outside Canyonlands National Park, including pump jacks and pipelines, but Langianese said companies have been responsive to concerns.
With official international night sky designations in place at Canyonlands, neighboring Dead Horse State Park and Arches, Langianese said the association and parks officials requested producers come up with a way to minimize any lighting impacts from their equipment — and they did.
"Nobody hears about that," she said.
Sgamma said oil and gas producers are often involved in conservation efforts where they operate, but "don't get a lot of credit."