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Steps taken to protect Yellowstone Geysers.

The geysers, hot springs, and other geothermal wonders of Yellowstone National Park may receive a new level of protection, after much controversy over their safety.

A recent compact between Montana and the National Park Service sets new safeguards, and a bill now before Congress would expand them to the other states bordering the park. Both measures are meant to prevent drilling for or pumping of groundwater near Yellowstone from altering the complex subsurface "plumbing" of the geysers and other geothermal features. This underground system is known to extend beyond the park's boundaries.

Elizabeth Fayad, NPCA staff attorney, told Congress in April that the bill, the Old Faithful Protection Act, is "necessary" for "the preservation of the natural wonders of Yellowstone."

Yellowstone contains more geothermal activity than the rest of the Earth combined. Within the park, hot subterranean water bursts forth into 300 geysers, including world-famous Old Faithful. There are nearly 10,000 other thermal features, such as hot springs, mud pots, and brilliantly colored pools.

But Yellowstone and the Krontoski Biological Reserve in Siberia are the only major areas of geothermal activity left intact. The rest have been destroyed by attempts to tap their geothermal energy.

Concern for Yellowstone arose in 1986 when the Church Universal and Triumphant, a group based in Montana, drilled a well into an area of hot springs just north of the park. In response, Congress called for a study of connections between the area and Yellowstone's geothermal features and temporarily banned drilling and pumping there.

In 1991, the Interior Department sent Congress a U.S. Geological Survey study concluding that the area was "probably not" connected to the park and recommending that limited geothermal development be allowed there. Interior did not send an accompanying Park Service report, which argued that lack of scientific certainty on the issue made the risk too great.

Rep. Pat Williams (D-Mont.) then introduced a bill renewing the ban and extending it to portions of Wyoming and Idaho that border the park. The bill passed the House in November 1991. It became bogged down in the Senate when several senators argued that the prohibition constituted a "taking" of the church's property. Meanwhile, the ban on drilling and pumping north of the park expired in April 1992.

By regulating drilling and pumping in zones north and west of the park, the water compact gives Yellowstone back the protection it lost. Williams' new bill expands these protections into the other states and mandates further Park Service research into the effects geothermal, oil and gas, or other development near the park could have on its geothermal features.

The goal, Williams said, is "an iron-clad, copper-riveted no-risk policy toward Yellowstone Park."
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Title Annotation:Yellowstone National Park
Publication:National Parks
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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