It is also the centerpiece of President Trump’s agenda to stimulate economic growth by embracing our prodigious shale resources, unleashing productivity not only in the upstream oil and gas industries but across the national economy. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration Commission notes, the expected increase in new global oil and gas production “will come solely from the Permian, making west Texas the center of the action for the entire global market over the next five years.”
Yet a small lizard, known as the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, in the Permian region of Texas and southeastern New Mexico could quash the shale revolution, and all the economic and national security benefits that come with it, if the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decides to list the lizard under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Previous attempts by far-left environmental groups to list the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard failed after the oil and gas industry partnered with the FWS to build cooperative agreements protecting the lizard’s habitat. Known as the “TCP”, and managed by the Texas Comptroller’s office, the plan has successfully mitigated impacts to the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard and its habitat, though there are significant opportunities for improvement. But that hasn’t stopped special interest groups from again filing to have the lizard listed.
If it were, the consequences could be dramatic and immediate.
Domestic manufacturing and related service industries are rapidly expanding. Energy exports to our allies have skyrocketed reducing our trade deficit and increasing our national security and geopolitical dominance. Scores of pipelines are under construction connecting the Permian shale fields to the Texas Gulf Coast, while enhanced port infrastructure is under construction.
Total U.S. jobs supported by oil and natural gas industries amount to over ten million. In 2016, Texas shale industries offered an average annual wage of about $130,000.
What our president calls our “shared” energy prosperity extends beyond owners and employees to investors, property owners, schools, local, state and federal coffers as well as the many service companies in the supply chain supporting up- stream and mid-stream oil and natural gas. Petrochemical industries are roaring with 134 projects underway supported by investments of $71 billion.
That this humble lizard could jeopardize what may be the greatest energy enrichment in human history is absurdly chilling.
While few question the ESA’s authority over public land, it’s authority over private land is still legally murky. The Department of Interior has yet to articulate clear policy governing conservation programs on private lands. The matter becomes particularly complex in the Permian where subsurface minerals are the dominate estate and there is very little, if any, federal land in the Texas portion of the Permian.
The President’s Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence is a worthy guide. “It is in the national interest to promote clean and safe development of our Nation’s vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth and prevent job creation. Moreover, the prudent development of these natural resources is essential to ensuring the Nation’s geopolitical security.”
Given the importance of the Permian Basin to the president’s agenda, it is essential that DOI develop consistent energy, conservation and mitigation policies for ESA jurisdiction impacting private lands and private minerals. As demonstrated in recent years, many operators in the Permian have and are continuing to develop voluntary conservation plans to protect and even enhance lizard habitat, and to further advance the science for this poorly understood species. A potential listing would be disastrous to these efforts. It’s critically important that DOI and FWS clarify the relevant governing policies.
In 1990, no one could believe that ESA protection of the Spotted Owl could destroy our domestic timber industries of the Pacific Northwest. Yet, federal conservation of the owl did just that. And more recently, the federally listed Delta Smelt has devastated the water supply of California.
Now the Dune Sagebrush Lizard presents that same sort of threat putting at risk access to the affordable, abundant, and reliable energy resources that make our lives happier, healthier, and more secure. The Texas state conservation plan that already protects the Dune Sagebrush Lizard has twice been successfully defended in federal litigation; the current plan still works just fine. To protect our future, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service should again reject these unnecessary and redundant requests, and deny efforts by radical liberal groups to attack private property rights in the Permian Basin.
This commentary was originally featured in The Hill on July 12, 2018.
The Honorable Kathleen Hartnett White is Director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment and Senior Fellow for Life:Powered. She previously served as chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.