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The Price of Gas and the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

Monday, April 25, 2011  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

First, here are the first three graphs of a story out of west Texas:

A three-inch lizard that thrives in desert conditions could shut down oil and gas operations in portions of Southeast New Mexico and in West Texas, including the state’s top two oil producing counties.

Called the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, it is being considered for inclusion on the federal Endangered Species listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A public rally to oppose this move is being sponsored by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association on Tuesday, April 26 at Midland Center beginning at 5 p.m. Congressman Mike Conaway will speak, as will Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson; other public officials have been invited.

“We are very concerned about the Fish and Wildlife Service listing,” said Ben Shepperd, president of the PBPA, noting the service also has proposed listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken next year. “The wolf at the door is the lizard; we’re concerned listing it would shut down drilling activity for a minimum of two years and as many as five years while the service determines what habitat is needed for the lizard. That means no drilling, no seismic surveys, no roads built, no electric lines.”

This lizard isn’t protected under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) —yet. But if the industry, lessees and land owners, and affiliated businesses and communities do not rally to present the necessary science and defend against the typically hyperbolic claims of the species’ imminent demise due to “habitat fragmentation” presented by anti-growth, anti-energy environmental extremists, the lizard will soon add another burden to the business of energy production, just as scores of species listings in other states have diminished economic growth across a number of industries.

The abuse of the ESA is more than two decades old, but is now something of a science on the left, and the sporadic attempts to amend the ESA over the years have all come to naught. I have battled such listing for 20 years and it is crucial not just for the soon-to-be-impacted property-owners and industry interests to organize, but also for the House Natural Resource Committee to exercise oversight on this proposed listing and all new listings and to make sure that the administrative record is full of arguments against the listing and especially against the entire theory of “habitat loss” as a rationale for a listing.

“It’s just another listing” is the familiar refrain of the MSM and the Beltway trade associations are weary of these battles. But this one and others that will impact domestic oil production ought to at least bring some new industries beside land owners and property-rights activists into the battle to return balance to the ESA.

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