Texas Oil and Gas Industry Continues Commitment to Protecting Dune Sagebrush Lizard Amid Weaponization of Endangered Species Act

Wed, July 03, 2024

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) officially listed the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (DSL) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), despite a successful decades long effort led by ranchers, landowners and the oil and gas industry to conserve the lizard’s habitat. The lizard’s listing on the endangered list risks hindering critical energy development in the Permian Basin and derailing ongoing conservation efforts implemented by the Texas Conservation Plan (TCP) for the Dune Sagebrush Lizard that have proven effective in protecting the lizard’s habitat over the last decade. The filing has little to do with protecting the lizards habitat and is instead one of several ongoing efforts to inhibit oil and gas production by activist groups.  

Last summer, the FWS announced it would be reviewing information to decide whether the DSL species required the endangered designation. The over 100 ranchers and 100 industry partners who championed the TCP were confused as they’d spent years successfully implementing a conservation plan that was proving effective, while others were left skeptical over the validity of the science used to support the designation. Operators in the Permian had also spent years requesting additional guidance from federal regulators to evaluate where to drill and build service roads.

Beth Ullenberg, FWS spokesperson, underlined that despite the listing, collaboration with the industry would remain critical to the lizard’s survival and the agency would work with the operating companies to avoid penalties. However, Ullenberg also emphasized that any company found to be encroaching on the lizard’s habitat could face fines up to $50,000 and prison time.

Industry operators have successfully protected the lizard’s habitat for the last 12 years. According to the American Conservation Foundation’s 2020 Annual Report, less than 20 percent of the allowed habitat acres had been disturbed by TCP participants. The report remarked that the TCP was proving effective in reducing lizard habit damage, “this low number indicates the proactive management efforts of TCP Participants on private lands is protecting DSL Habitat from agricultural and industrial development.” The report continued, “TCP Participants…continue to promote the conservation for the DSL habitat while continuing to promote economic development for private landowners in the Permian Basin.”

Implemented in 2012, the TCP was developed in consultation with a range of federal and state agencies and organizations including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Agriculture, Texas A&M University, Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. The voluntary agreement listed a range of conservation actions industries should take in their West Texas operations and received recognition from The Environmental Defense Fund, with the organization highlighting the efficacy of voluntary conservation agreements in managing habitats. Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar described the agreement as: “the right thing for conservation, and the right thing for the economy.” Data echoes this attitude, with voluntary conservation agreements enacted by private industries demonstrating a higher record of success than the government’s Endangered Species Act, which only has a 2 percent species recovery rate.  

Last month, August Pfluger introduced a Congressional review to nullify the lizard’s listing while the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association challenge the quality of the “available science” used to list the DSL, noting that FWS’ report found that the Dunes Sagebrush only occupies about 4 percent of the Permian Basin.

WTAS: Elected officials and industry leaders alike respond to FWS’ decision:

“[The Endangered Species Act] has been manipulated and used as a political tool by environmental activist organizations for many years to disrupt oil and natural gas operations and the federal government is a willing participant despite the proactive, collaborative and successful efforts by our industry to protect the habitat of this species. These tactics could delay or prevent permits that are needed for exploration and production activities, all by design, and have a reverberating impact on the U.S. economy.” Ed Longanecker, President of the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners

“Farmers, ranchers, and landowners are essential allies in the effort to ensure that as our nation grows, we still have abundant wildlife populations to enjoy. Give them the tools and incentives, like candidate conservation agreements, and they will provide a well-managed habitat at the scale which is needed today.” – David Festa, Vice President of the Environmental Defense Fund

“My goal is to implement a 21st Century conservation agenda, and when I see 600,000 acres plus, and I see most of the lizard habitat protected, that is a major victory for conservation.”– Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior (former)

“An endangered species listing for this lizard would have had devastating consequences for Texas jobs and for the nation's energy security." Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

“STPRA agrees with the State Comptroller’s position that property owners and state agencies need to find ways to do the proper science to determine which claims of endangerment are legitimate and which are spurious.”– South Texas Property Rights Association

“This doesn’t have a thing to do with ‘saving lizards’; it’s about shutting down U.S. oil and gas production.” – Wayne Christian, Commissioner of the Texas Railroad Commission

“This rule could delay the permits that companies need for every phase of oil and gas exploration and extraction.” – Scott Lauermann, American Petroleum Institute.

“Listing the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species is another effort by the Biden Administration to shut down drilling in the Permian Basin. […] President Biden's attempt to use a lizard as a weapon against the oil & gas industry." - Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas)

“I think that the lizard is not in danger of extinction…not overnight, but over the coming months, we believe that that’s going to lead to a decrease in drilling. We believe it’s going to lead to…job losses.” – Ben Shepperd, President of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association.

“It’s time to restore some common sense to the ESA and make it work for the American people, not use it as a bludgeon for political gain,” and, “…another disappointing announcement…for farmers ranchers and domestic energy producers who are all working diligently to be good stewards of the environment and wildlife habitat.” – Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)