FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT:  Karin Ascot (512) 443-1135
June 18, 2003

SIERRA CLUB ANNOUNCES STATEWIDE GRASS ROOTS EFFORT TO STOP GAS DRILLING ON PADRE ISLAND

URGES BUSH ADMINISTRATION TO SUPPORT A
BUYOUT OF MINERAL RIGHTS UNDER PARK

Austin, TX – As summer vacation season commences, drilling on the Padre Island National Seashore could spoil the fun for visitors to the longest undeveloped barrier beach in the world. While awaiting an appeal in their lawsuit to protect Padre Island and its population of endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, the Sierra Club will kick off an aggressive grass roots campaign to educate and activate Texans in supporting a federal buyout of the mineral rights beneath the park.

"This pristine and irreplaceable park does not have to be destroyed by 18 wheelers and bulldozers driving up and down the beach," said Karin Ascot, Chair of the Sierra Club Austin Group. "There is a win-win solution for the park and its visitors, the oil and gas lease owners, and the state of Texas if we all work together to support a federal buyout of the mineral rights beneath Padre Island."

The Sierra Club’s "Stop the Drilling!" effort will educate over 20,000 activists across Texas about the dangers of drilling to the park and its visitors as well as its endangered species, and the Sierra Club is urging everyone who loves Padre Island to learn more. The Club’s plans include:

Distributing an educational video about the plight of the park to Sierra Club groups, environmental and recreational groups, the press, and community leaders and public officials around the state

Identifying at least 20,000 new Texans to join the effort to educate the public, press, and opinion leaders about the threats posed to the park

Identifying and educating local business owners about potential harm to the Texas economy and the tourism, birding, and sport-fishing industries

Providing outings to interested groups and individuals who wish to visit the park and learn more about its unique species and recreational opportunities

"We see this as an opportunity for those who care about Texas’ natural legacy to work together with the business community and government to make certain that this unique and wild place is protected forever," said Ascot. "There is only enough gas under the park to provide one day’s worth of fuel for America. It’s simply not worth a drop in the bucket to turn Padre Island into an oil and gas patch. We can do better."

Last year, President Bush supported a $120 million dollar federal buyout for the drilling rights under Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations praised the President’s decision regarding the Florida buyout.

"Drilling a single well on Padre Island means over 200 trips by heavy equipment every week, up and down the beach within feet of family vacationers, surf-fishers, and swimmers who come here for the rare opportunity to enjoy a wild and natural setting," says Ascot. "We want President Bush to do for Padre what he proposed to do for the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida – buy out the mineral rights and protect the park. It was the right thing to do in Florida, and it’s the right thing for Padre."

The Padre Island National Seashore is home to 12 federal endangered species, including the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the most endangered sea turtle in the world. Ascot fears that not only will family recreation be seriously affected by the drilling and 18 wheeler truck traffic on the beach, but that bird and turtle nesting will also be threatened. Many wildlife experts fear that heavy truck traffic will prove devastating for the survival of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and that the endangered sea turtles may avoid coming to shore altogether. Experts are also concerned about drilling-related bulldozing and breaching of the sand dunes that protect species and habitat on the back side of the island from storms and surges.

With Park Service support, Corpus-Christi-based BNP Petroleum announced that they would begin "an aggressive drilling plan" in the National Seashore in February of 2002. In the wake of that announcement, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, the National Park Service, and US Fish and Wildlife Service asking them to assess the impacts of oil and gas drilling operations on species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. The Federal District Court rejected the lawsuit’s claims last April, and the Sierra Club has appealed that rejection. The appeal is expected to be heard the first week of August.

"Why on earth would we take a chance on harming Padre Island with oil and gas drilling?" asks Ascot. "Padre Island is an international treasure and one of the few places left in Texas where we can experience pristine nature. The park is also a boon to the Texas economy, drawing over 800,000 visitors a year from around the nation and the world. It just doesn’t make sense to harm our valuable tourist industry as well as a crown jewel of the national park system, especially when you consider that 70% of the profits from the drilling will go to foreign investors. Padre Island and its animals are unique and irreplaceable, and we can protect them for future generations if we all work together."

Ascot encourages anyone interested in working to protect Padre Island to attend an organizing meeting in Austin on June 24th at 6:30 PM at the Austin History Center, SW corner of 9th and Guadalupe Streets.

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Important Links to More Information about
Padre Island National Seashore

Park release dates for hatchlings (public invited):

http://www.nps.gov/pais/pphtml/newseventsdetail7338.html

Padre Island Environmental Research Center:

http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/FRS_Webs/Padre/index.htm

Animals and endangered species of Padre Island

http://data2.itc.nps.gov/nature/animals.cfm?alphacode=pais&loc=1

Information on the foreign investors in Padre drilling plan

http://www.themonitor.com/NewsPub/News/Stories/2002/04/01/101772144927.shtml