Oil industry lobbies feds for sunlight on endangered species reviews

Oil industry leaders are pleading for a window into the government’s court-ordered review of whether to give endangered species protections to hundreds of plants and animals.

In a letter to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe, the Independent Petroleum Association of America complains that there is “very little transparency” governing the endangered species review process. At the same time, decisions about endangered species can have widespread effects on oil and gas development, said IPAA CEO Barry Russell.

“The pure depth and breath of these settlement agreements could harm our membership and create uncertainty in the development of domestic oil and natural gas,” Russell said.

The IPAA asked the agency to hold a public forum to outline where it stands in reviewing 250 species for final endangered species listing.

At issue is a September 2011 court-approved settlement between environmentalists and the Interior Department that lays out a schedule for the federal government to make decisions about giving protected status to animals ranging from wolves and walruses to owls and crayfish. Under the settlement, the agency has to make initial or final decisions on whether to add hundreds of plants and animals to the list of endangered species by 2018.

Nearly two dozen plants and animals in Texas are up for consideration, under the agreement, including the Georgetown salamander, Neches River rose-mallow, the Salado salamander and the Western yellow-billed cuckoo.

There have been recent battles over protecting endangered species at the expense of oil and gas development _ most notably when Fish and Wildlife officials this year were mulling whether to put the tiny dunes sagebrush lizard on the endangered species list. Oil and gas companies fiercely lobbied against the lizard’s listing, saying it would block oil drilling and production across the Permian Basin in south Texas.

Ultimately, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided to keep the lizard off the endangered species list after landowners in Texas and New Mexico agreed to take steps to protect the reptile’s habitat, including by abstaining from drilling in some areas.

A copy of the IPAA’s letter is below:

November 5, 2012
The Honorable Daniel Ashe        
Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20240
Dear Director Ashe:
The Independent Petroleum Association of American (IPAA) writes to express its concerns regarding the continued lack of transparency with respect to timing and plans for listing decisions on candidate species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as part of implementation of settlement agreements between the Fish and Wildlife Service and Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Earth Guardians.
As you know, in September of 2011, the Federal District Court approved settlements between Fish and Wildlife Service, Wild Earth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity. By 2016, FWS must complete review of 250 candidate species for final listing and complete other actions on listing, critical habitat petitions, and other actions for over 1000 species.
IPAA understands that FWS is obligated to meet certain deadlines as part of the court approved settlement; yet there is very little transparency afforded to the public on which species are coming up for review. The pure depth and breadth of these settlement agreements could harm our membership and create uncertainty in the development of domestic oil and natural gas.
While independent oil and natural gas producers range in size from one-or-two person private companies up to larger, publicly traded firms, the average independent producer has been in business for 26 years, employs 11 full-time and three part-time people.  Independent oil and natural gas producers drill 95 percent of the wells in the United States each year.  As you know, data regarding ESA decisions typically requires a considerable amount of time and providing certainty and transparency would allow our membership to make informed decisions regarding these species.??Respectfully, IPAA requests that the FWS host a public forum to discuss the current review of species under consideration under the settlement agreements as well as discuss its work plan moving forward through 2016.
Barry Russell
President & CEO