US FWS listing of Permian basin lizard draws ire of oil industry

June 4, 2024
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the dunes sagebrush lizard, endemic to the Permian basin, as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the dunes sagebrush lizard, endemic to the Permian basin, as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), potentially slowing oil and gas industry operations. 

The lizard is a rare species found only in the shinnery oak and sand dune ecosystems of extreme southeast New Mexico and West Texas. While the lizard only lives in about 4% of lands that make up the 86,000-sq-mile Permian basin, its primary threats include “loss of habitat associated with oil and gas development, sand mining, and changing climate,” the FWS said in a May 17 statement. 

With the ESA listing, the government can take moves to protect the species, including by limiting development in its habitat. 

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association called the designation a “federal effort to overreach to the detriment of communities across West Texas and Southeast New Mexico.”

The FWS indicated one of the best ways to save the imperiled lizard is to broaden collaborative conservation efforts. It said about 100 oil and gas partners and 100 ranchers have already enrolled in voluntary agreements to implement conservation practices. 

The voluntary conservation agreements allow the signers to “continue to manage their land…with no additional requirements or restrictions” if a species is listed as endangered.

The rule is final and effective on June 20. 

If landholders opt not to participate, the FWS has “multiple tools and programs to work with industry, private landowners, and public agencies to streamline and ensure compliance with the ESA,” it said.

The FWS also noted that with advanced horizontal drilling techniques, oil and gas wells can still reach most oil and gas reserves without disrupting lizard habitat. 

Still, industry advocates claim new regulations could slow Permian basin output, which represents about 40% of US oil production and 15% of its natural gas production, according to the Texas Railroad Commission.

 

About the Author

Cathy Landry | Washington Correspondent

Cathy Landry has worked over 20 years as a journalist, including 17 years as an energy reporter with Platts News Service (now S&P Global) in Washington and London.

She has served as a wire-service reporter, general news and sports reporter for local newspapers and a feature writer for association and company publications.

Cathy has deep public policy experience, having worked in 15 years in Washington energy circles.

She earned a master’s degree in government from The Johns Hopkins University and studied newspaper journalism and psychology at Syracuse University.