So far, oil and gas operators including ConocoPhillips, Chevron, XTO Energy, Sandridge and BOPCO, along with 19 Texas ranchers, have enrolled approximately 70 percent of the habitat area in Texas. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, it could be enough to keep the lizard off the list completely. Still, some say the true meaning behind the conservation plan isn't right.
"If the lizard were to be listed and the oil and gas companies had not signed up the acreage, essentially they would not be able to move forward with development because you would essentially be in violation of the endangered species act," said Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Dan Ashe, Director of the Fish & Wildlife Service, adds, "It's a little bit of insurance. Hopefully, it will help us avoid the need for a listing, but if we had to list, it's an assurance that these activies will be able to continue as you're seeing them here today."
Kirk Edwards, a local independent oil producer, doesn't buy it. "To me, it's extortion. Again, you have the plan out there and you say well, if you sign up for it you're going to get to continue doing business as usual. It sounds great, but that's not the way we do business in Texas. It's not the way we should do business in this country," said Edwards, who calls it the new cap and trade."It's a way for the government to come in on our energy industry. Make some money out of it. Slow it down. Impede it. They're doing a great job of it with this threat."
ConocoPhillips is one of the companies enrolled in the conservation plan. While they admit there's no such thing as a perfect agreement, employee Bill Patterson said, "It did protect our right to develop and continue exploring and producing oil and gas in this area and, at the same time, it did provide protection for the habitat of the sand dune lizard."
But it doesn't come without a price. "They're going to pay quite a bit of money. There's a million dollar fee a year, just to be in that conservation plan plus the cost of mitigating the land that's out there," said Edwards. A lot of money to pay when, according to Edwards, there's not enough science to prove the need to list this species in the first place.
"A lot of independents that are in that area. A lot of royalty owners. A lot of the land owners...they don't like the concept of giving up that land to federal causes when there's no science to back up what's going on with the sand dune lizard, and that's the whole gist of what the problem is right now," said Edwards.
Edwards also stressed that if, in fact, the lizard is listed, a lot more than oil companies will be impacted. He said you also have the ag industry and even homeowners living in the habitat area like Monahans.
FWS has until June 15 to make their final decision. Until then, if you would like to know more about the species or about the conservation plan, you can visit http://texasahead.org/texasfirst/