It all started on December 14th, 2010. That was the day the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed rule to list the SDL on the Endangered Species List. It immediately caught the attention of the oil and gas industry. And the fight that followed eventually caught the eye of the national media. Now, almost one year later, it looks life Fish and Wildlife has taken notice as well.
Before Thursday, the countdown to the final decision was officially on. With only 13 days to go, the FWS made a decision that sent shock waves through the Permian Basin when they put a six month delay on the final decision.
Permian Basin Petroleum Association President, Ben Sheppard, who's been fighting the listing since day one, was actually in D.C. when he got the news. "I was in Washington boarding a flight to Midland when I got the news that Fish and Wildlife decided to grant the extension and I was very excited," says Sheppard.
He wasn't the only one in shock. After speaking with one FWS employee, it looks like even he was surprised by it all. Tom Buckley, who works for the Southwest Region, said quote, "Our decision to extend the final determination of this listing decision is very unusual but not unprecedented."
Buckley says the Endangered Species Act requires them to take three actions within one year of a proposed listing. The first is to finalize the proposed listing. The second is to withdraw the proposed listing. The third is to extend the deadline, but only under certain conditions. There has to a substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data.
That's exactly what Sheppard has working to prove all along. He says, "There's enough disagreement about the science. Obviously we believe that science dictates that there is not justification for a listing and, apparently, we were somewhat convincing."
It took a lot of manpower and help from three different universities to prove that the science they had been basing their decision on, which was being provided by environmental groups, was bogus.
Past PBPA President Kirk Edwards gives an example that targeted Crane County. "They said the lizard's extinct. We can't find any, but we have found evidence of off-road vehicle tracks in the county, and so they put the two together since there are off-road vehicle tracks. That must be why the lizard's extinct."
Now the Permian Basin has six more months of convincing. And, most would agree with Edwards, there's a lot at stake. "One rig drilling around Midland and Odessa today generates $4 million a month of expenditures in this area. It goes into pipe. It goes into salaries. It goes into cement crews. It goes to the people that supply water for these things."
Their decision also re-opened a public comment period. The FWS will be accepting comments from the public for the next 45 days.
Texas Comptroller released a statement earlier Wednesday providing the following:
For further information on how and where to submit comments, and to review and/or download these documents visit the Service's Southwest Region's website, http://southwest.fws.gov/ or visit the Comptroller's website for more information: http://texasahead.org/texasfirst/species/watch/dunes_sagebrush_lizard.php