In his own teenage way, a great-great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt came of age in the North Dakota Badlands.
Winthrop Roosevelt, 30, of Boston, spent his 16th summer working as a grill cook at the Chuckwagon Cafe in Medora. That was upriver and down the romance scale from his ancestor, who ran cattle at the Elkhorn Ranch in the frontier days of the American West and went on to become president.
Still, Winthrop Roosevelt was a kid far away from home and he grew up some that hot dusty summer. “Going on horseback rides and jumping in the Little Missouri River can make a man out of anyone,” he said.
The family maintains a close connection to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Roosevelt said he jumped at the invitation to narrate a short video called “A Boom with No Boundaries” that was released this week by the Center for American Progress, a non-profit policy think-tank based in Washington, D.C.
The video looks at the effects of Bakken oil wells, traffic and gas flares and makes a case that the park’s special qualities are threatened and could be even more threatened by wells inside it.
“That’s the problem,” Roosevelt said. “It could get a lot worse. We have to balance the short term effect versus the long term chance to pass an unscathed national park to our children.”
Christy Goldfuss, who directs the center’s Public Lands Project, said Theodore Roosevelt National Park is among parks in which the National Park Service believes there is potential for oil development.
Goldfuss says the federal agency made that determination last fall based on several factors, but the primary one is that some park minerals are privately owned and those individuals would have to be given access.
Park superintendent Valerie Naylor said most of the park minerals are owned by the federal government but there are widely scattered, mostly small tracts of privately owned minerals inside the park.
She said she doesn’t know the process if oil companies were to lease those, but it is a concern.
“We also have to be concerned about a change in law. We’re already concerned about drilling right on our boundary, that could have quite an effect on the park,” Naylor said.
Two weeks ago, XTO Energy withdrew an application to drill four wells 100 feet from the park’s Elkhorn Ranch site. The application was creating a flurry of public attention, along with the disclosure that Gov. Jack Dalrymple owns stock. He’s a member of the Industrial Commission that would decide approval of the well permit. He’s indicated he would have been more comfortable not voting.
“I will be talking to the Forest Service. It’s a critical issue,” she said. The Forest Service owns the well location. XTO said it’s looking at options.
Goldfuss said private mineral owners have a valid right and the park service can work with them, “but it can’t say no.”
Roosevelt said his family understands the importance of oil development in North Dakota.
“We’re not going at this to stop all drilling. We’d like to see a balanced approach toward the heritage area of a national park,” he said.
Mike McEnroe, spokesman for the North Dakota chapter of the Wildlife Federation, says on the video that oil development could decimate half the wildlife in the drilling region.
The link to the video is on the Center for American Progress Website.