API, Commissioner Praise Dunes Sagebrush Lizard Decision

The American Petroleum Institute (API) and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on Wednesday praised the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep the dunes sagebrush lizard off the endangered species list.

API Upstream Director Erik Milito on Wednesday said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife was an example of "industry, states and the government working together to harmonize continued oil and gas production with conservation efforts."

Milito noted the industry has worked tirelessly with federal agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies, conservation organizations, ranchers and other stakeholders to develop and implement a "far-reaching, voluntary collaborative management program and cooperative conservation agreements for protection of the dunes sagebrush lizards."

"It is critical that the federal government embrace a practical, long-term energy strategy that harmonizes conservation with continued energy development," said Milito. "The positive decision helps to ensure that oil and gas production can continue to drive the economy forward through job creation, revenue creation and energy security."

"The drive to list the lizard wasn't based on science, but was in response to abusive lawsuits filed against the federal government by a radical environmental group – and Texans showed that we don't get intimidated so easily," said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in a statement Wednesday.

While Permian Basin oil and gas production "is safe from overreaching federal entanglements for now," more work needs to be done to fix the Endangered Species Act, Patterson said.

The lawsuit that prompted the proposed listings of the dunes sagebrush lizard also proposed listing more than 250 other species –21 of which live of Texas, said Patterson.

"Today it's the dunes sagebrush lizard, tomorrow it's another species to settle another lawsuit."

The lawsuit that triggered the proposal to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species was filed by the Wild Earth Guardians, who sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 76 times, Patterson said.

From 2007 to 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave $680,492 in tax money to the Wild Earth Guardians, Patterson said, quoting congressional testimony.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday announced it would keep the dunes sagebrush lizard off the endangered species list in New Mexico and Texas due to the unprecedented commitments to voluntary conservation agreements now in place in both states that provide for the long-term conservation of the species.

State-led voluntary conservation efforts to protect existing shinnery oak dune habitat and greatly reduce the impact of oil and gas development across the species' range now cover over 650,000 acres in New Mexico and Texas, totaling 88 percent of the lizard's habitat.

"The voluntary conservation efforts of Texas and New Mexico, oil and gas operators, private landowners and other stakeholders show that we don't have to choose between energy development and the protection of our land and wildlife – we can do both," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a statement on Wednesday.

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the lizard as an endangered species in December 2010. Since that time, the service has received a wide range of scientific information.

The Bureau of Land Management and Texas A&M University provided information enabling the Service to refine mapping of suitable and occupied shinnery oak dune habitat in New Mexico and Texas and identified more known occupied sites for the lizard, especially in Texas.

The analysis of data and voluntary conservation efforts led Service biologists to determine the lizard was no longer in danger of extinction or likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, the Service said in a statement Wednesday.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com


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