The recent press releases by the Wild Earth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity criticizing the claim that an Endangered Species Act listing for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard will cost jobs and decrease economic activity in southeastern New Mexico is yet another orchestrated attempt by these groups to mislead the public while hiding their real agenda. To suggest that placing the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard on the Endangered Species List will not affect jobs or the economy is wrong, and these groups know better.
Wild Earth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity cite recent lease data from the Bureau of Land Management as justification for their arguments. Such a position is disingenuous, at best. The Bureau of Land Management, through their planning process, has permanently withdrawn thousands of acres from future leasing. This decision, in and by itself, removes the resource developmental opportunities, jobs, taxes, royalties and economic activity associated with new drilling on these off-limits lands.
In addition, the lease offerings by the Bureau of Land Management cited will require extensive analysis and mitigation, if located in lizard habitat. The required mitigation, whether it be directional drilling, avoidance, timing limitations, or some other restrictions, may make these new leases less attractive and less likely to be developed, adversely impacting jobs and the economy of southeastern New Mexico.
The most troubling aspects of endangered species listing for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard is the reality that over 95% of the species’ known habitat in New Mexico and Texas is currently leased for oil and gas development. There are thousands of existing leases with over 30,000 producing wells within Dunes Sagebrush Lizard habitat.
The Wild Earth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity don’t like to talk about their plans if they are successful in having the lizard listed as an endangered species. However, the track record and tactics used by these groups is well established. If the lizard is listed as endangered, any action proposed on these existing leases will have to be evaluated for potential impacts under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
Impact evaluations are reasonable when taken at face value. The problem is that the Wild Earth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity routinely challenge reasonable and well evaluated impact determinations, and aggressively challenge government agencies over actions involving existing and proposed projects.
An endangered species listing for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard combined with the established practices of the Wild Earth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity will likely result some reduction in future development on existing leases, and quite possibly, forced curtailment and even suspension of current oil and gas production.
Under an endangered species listing, the Wild Earth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity will be one step closer to their goal of slowly strangling the oil and gas industry with continuous lawsuits against Federal agencies. When these cases are settled, legal fees are awarded to these groups and paid with taxpayer dollars. The funds received are then used to fund another round of lawsuits. This scenario plays itself out repeatedly – until more companies finally abandon projects because of the time and expense of compliance with ever-tighter restrictions, and the burdensome cost of environmental analysis, mitigation, and litigation. The loss of jobs and tax revenue for the State of New Mexico will be the ultimate result of an endangered species listing.
The impacts of listing are difficult to quantify, but the pattern and progression are easily recognizable. Is a 10% reduction to a $20 billion a year industry in the Permian Basin possible? I would say not only possible, but probable, given the track record of litigation and restrictions imposed under the application of the Endangered Species Act in other areas of the country.
There is a more balanced path forward, short of listing the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard under the Endangered Species Act. That is continuation of the Cooperative Conservation Agreement program, whereby ranchers and oil and gas operators have voluntarily agreed to proactive conservation measures to protect the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard and the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Under existing Cooperative Conservation Agreements, over 800,000 acres have been enrolled in the program where landowners and lessors agree to conduct their operations in a manner that benefits both species.
Under these Cooperative Conservation Agreements almost $1 million has been raised from the private sector to restore habitat and further study the best methods of protecting these species. In addition to providing real dollars for conservation, the Cooperative Conservation Agreement program requires operating practices in the oil and gas industry that reduce or eliminate adverse effects on the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard and Lesser Prairie Chicken while promoting the economy of the Permian Basin.
Cooperative Conservation Agreements are the win-win path forward. These agreements should not only be allowed, but promoted, as the best hope for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard and the people of New Mexico.
Steve Henke, President
New Mexico Oil & Gas Association
Originally run as an Op Ed in the Las Cruces Sun-News May 17, 2011