Could a Lizard Disrupt Eagle Ford Development?

Spot Tailed Earless Lizard
Spot Tailed Earless Lizard

Have you ever heard of the spot-tailed earless lizard? Don't worry - we hadn't either.

The rare lizard, once spread across portions of the Eagle Ford region, has largely vanished, the San Antonio Express News reported in early October of 2014. And now the species has the potential to disprupt oil & gas development in the region, if it is designated as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFW), under the endangered species act (ESA).

Endangered and Threatened Species in Texas

Industry and regulators fear government intrusion via the ESA could ultimately hurt Texas' lucrative oil & gas industry. And those fears are not unwarranted - in 2012, a $29-million road construction project in San Antonio, TX, was stopped, when it was discovered the endangered Bracken Bat Cave Meshweaver spider's cave habitat would be disrupted. Construction is slated to begin again in 2015, but with a new price tag of $44-million to accommodate for the spider.

In late March of 2014, the USFW listed the lesser praire chicken as threatened under the ESA. The species is concentrated in the western portion of the state and in the Panhandle, which presents more of a threat to oil & gas operations in the Permian Basin, than the Eagle Ford region. However, several species, including the spot-tailed earless lizard, have the potential to impact the Eagle Ford.

Read more: The Lesser Praire Chicken's Impact on Texas Oil

Environmental Group Pushing for Lizard's Protection Under ESA

Santa Fe, NM-based WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group, submitted a petition in 2010 to place the spot-tailed earless lizard under the endangered species act. In their petition, the group says the species may already be extinct in the wild. In 2011, USFW said listing the species as endangered or threatened may be warranted, but that doesn't mean the lizard will ultimately receive either of those designations. The process can take years for a species to receive a designation from the USFW.

The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), which regulates the oil & gas industry in Texas, has taken a strong stance against the federal government and the ESA.

we must not allow the Obama administration to use the Endangered Species Act as a weapon against the oil and gas industry.
— Commissioner David Porter

If or when the lizard receives an endangered or threatened designation from the USFW, oil & gas development would be impacted in the Eagle Ford. With the play hitting 1.5 million b/d in September of 2014, this has the potential to be a notable issue for South Texas' burgeoning oil and gas economy.

The Lesser Praire Chicken's Impact on Texas Oil

Lesser Praire Chicken
Lesser Praire Chicken

In late March 2014, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFW) listed the lesser praire chicken as threatened under the endangered species act (ESA), much to the dismay of the oil and gas industry. In Texas, the species is concentrated in the western portion of the state and in the Panhandle.

The lesser praire chicken's new designation will impact a five-state area, and according to USFW, 3-million acres of land have already been enrolled in targeted conservation plans. Although the species' new designation doesn't take control out of the states' hands completely, it does shift the balance of power to the federal government. Under special Rule 4(d) of the ESA, states' will be allowed to continue managing conservation efforts for the species and avoid further regulation of activities such as oil and gas development and utility line maintenance.

The lesser praire chicken is in dire straits. To date, we understand that oil and gas companies, ranchers and other landowners have signed up over 3 million acres of land for participation in the states’ range-wide conservation plan and the NRCS’ Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative. We expect these plans to work for business, landowners and the conservation of prairie-chickens.
— USFW Director Dan Ashe

egislation designed to fight alleged abuse of the ESA has been proposed by multiple lawmakers across the country. The State of Kansas and Oklahoma have both filed lawsuits against the federal designation of the lesser praire chicken.

This kind of federal intrusion creates unworkable difficulties for Texas businesses and landowners. The result will undoubtedly impact Texas energy production in the chicken’s range area throughout the Panhandle and in the heart of the Permian Basin, with damaging effects on operators who produce more than one-third of this nation’s crude oil.” According to Craddick, there are more than one-hundred species in Texas proposed for listing in the next three years.
— Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick

Depending on a species' habitat, the Eagle Ford Shale could be impacted if the USFW designates an animal native to South Texas as threatened or endangered. Any new ESA designations in South Texas could potentially have an impact on the lucrative play.