The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Lizards, Energy and Effective Habitat Protection

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted May 11, 2018

Protecting the environment is a core industry value. The environment belongs to everyone, and our companies and their employees are committed to producing natural gas and oil as safely as possible. This commitment includes preserving habitat and looking out for wildlife.

In this 2016 post and this post earlier this year, API colleague Kate Wallace detailed how companies have monitored elk populations in Wyoming and polar bears in Alaska, created artificial reefs off the Gulf Coast, developed pollinator gardens and bee sanctuaries and more. Companies also worked across five western states to create conservation areas for the lesser prairie chicken and preserve habitat for the sage-grouse. Our commitment is backed up by action.

That’s why we’re optimistic a constructive and comprehensive plan can be crafted to take care of the dunes sagebrush lizard in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico while also maintaining critically important natural gas and oil production in the region – which would be unlikely if a new effort to list the lizard as endangered under federal law succeeds.


Some background: The lizard makes its home in sand dunes in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico that are increasingly being used for hydraulic fracturing in the production of natural gas and oil. Here’s a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service map showing where the lizard is found:


Federal officials proposed listing the lizard under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 but stood down when Texas proposed a conservation plan. New Mexico has had voluntary conservation agreements in place for the lizard and the lesser prairie chicken since late 2008. As of 2016, natural gas and oil companies had enrolled nearly 2 million acres of habitat for the two species under these agreements.

Texas officials say their plan continues to be refined, with a goal of protecting the lizard while also allowing energy development – and the economic growth it supports – to continue. Robert Gulley, director of the economic growth and endangered species management division with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts:

“I think the comptroller has made it clear the plan is supposed to be open and transparent on what it will do. We're open to anyone who wants to solve problems. … [I]t's important to the oil and gas industry and the comptroller that we have a durable plan. This calls for a 30-year commitment, and we want a plan that will survive that without going through what we're going through now.”

Again, federally listing a species is a big step, one that potentially could significantly affect natural gas and oil production in one of the nation’s leading energy regions. A better course is for stakeholders in the area to develop a conservation plan that’s tailored to local and regional needs. This certainly has occurred in New Mexico, where stakeholders embraced conservation agreements that are focused locally, and the people who are actually implementing conservation efforts on the ground aren’t affiliated with either the government or industry.

At the same time, let’s point out that in the past, some efforts to invoke the Endangered Species Act have been about more than protecting wildlife. Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, questioned the motives behind the latest effort to list the lizard:

“Texas oil and natural gas companies and private landowners have been working together for years to protect the dunes sagebrush lizard. The industry has invested millions of dollars in voluntary conservation efforts that are working to protect the species and its habitat.

“Listing the species remains unwarranted and would shut down significant oil and natural gas production and activity, which is the intent of the groups filing this latest petition. Like previous attempts to list the dunes sagebrush lizard, this filing has nothing to do with the lizard’s habitat.  These groups routinely use the federal government to raise money to fund an anti-oil and gas agenda, wasting tax dollars and eroding our national energy and economic security.”

Again, our companies and their employees take the environment and wildlife conservation seriously, because both are important the greater good of a modern society, of which they are a part. So, too, is safe and responsible energy development – for the countless products and reliable fuels that make modern living possible. The two can and do coexist – which is the goal of the states’ ongoing efforts to protect this tiny lizard.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.