From Daily Times
As an Orange County resident, I have firsthand experience of the effects of light pollution. When we have the chance to see stars they are few and far between. However, I recently had the opportunity for the first time in my life to go stargazing. While peering at the night sky in Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, I finally understood why we need to protect some of our nation’s public lands.
The trip “Four Stops, One Destination,” sponsored by Hispanic Access Foundation, was an experience that changed the way I look at nature. Teaming up with six other environmentally-minded and dedicated college students, we took to the road and toured several different national parks. Every single day and every single experience was just another opportunity for me to absorb as much information as I could.
In New Mexico, I was able to look at stars, shooting stars, satellites and even the Milky Way — a cluster of stars for the amusement of my eyes. I could not experience this in Orange County. One would be lucky to spot more than six stars. I felt privileged to see the beauty of the Big Dipper and the North Star. Mesmerized by the starry night sky, I felt euphoric, a state of mind that I am rarely in.
However, this opportunity may not be available for others if we’re not careful. There’ve been efforts to lease the public lands near Chaco for oil and gas development. Many of the leases can be seen from the park, and while these will be lit up brightly as they typically run 24/7, what’s worse is that many of these drilling locations burn off natural gas. We’re talking large burning flares in the darkness of the desert.
For instance, there is a proposal to build as many as 1,000 flaring gas pipes near Chaco. Usually, the process of flaring may take up to 30 days burning day and night. An energy development initiative of this type will dramatically affect the park in different ways by creating light pollution and deteriorating air quality. Light pollution brightens the night sky, which disturbs natural cycles in organisms and obstructs the possibility to observe stars and planets. Having a flare burning day and night affects how animals migrate as they are looking for food. Furthermore, flaring will also require maintenance, which means cars will be going in and out causing air and noise pollution.
And this is what the 4 Stops trip was about. Helping us learn about the threats facing our national parks from energy development and understand how we can prevent irreversible harm. (Editors note: The author also visited Rocky Mountain National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Arches National Park.)
But like Chaco, all of these parks face threats from oil and gas drilling. These places may have been here for centuries, but if we continue to take them for granted it will not remain so. As our energy needs continue to grow, we need strive for balance between energy development and conservation.
Santa Ana College