Yes, a 3 inch lizard can collapse the Texas oil industry.
There’s a new bad guy in town in West Texas. He’s called the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard. He’s actually kind of cute, as lizards go. He’s about three inches long, a nice tan color, and has a vaguely Winston Churchill-esque expression. He seems harmless enough, but he comes packing a huge, powerful weapon: the federal government.
It turns out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is contemplating putting this little lizard on the endangered species list, not because he’s being hunted, but because his habitat might be threatened. And what is his habitat: Oil country. Not just oil, but cattle and other agriculture too. If the government goes forward with this plan, everything in little lizard’s neighborhood comes to a grinding halt:
“We are very concerned about the Fish and Wildlife Service listing,” said Ben Shepperd, president of the PBPA, noting the service also has proposed listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken next year. “The wolf at the door is the lizard; we’re concerned listing it would shut down drilling activity for a minimum of two years and as many as five years while the service determines what habitat is needed for the lizard. That means no drilling, no seismic surveys, no roads built, no electric lines.”
The move would impact activity in Andrews, Crane, Gaines, Ward and Winkler counties in Texas and Chaves, Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt counties in New Mexico.
Not only would the move impact oil and gas operations but agriculture, Shepperd noted, shutting down agricultural activities like grazing and farming — “anything that disturbs the habitat.” While the industry is perfectly willing to undertake conservation measures to protect the lizard’s habitat, he said, naming it an endangered species “would shut down activity and be devastating not only to Permian Basin economies but to the national economy. We are the one bright spot month after month; in our economic turnaround, the main driver is the oil and gas industry.”
As seems to be the case with these government fiats, the government is going off half-cocked:
The concern is, he said, that the Fish and Wildlife Service lacks enough data to conclude that the tiny lizard is endangered and is basing its action on flawed methodology. “They didn’t spend enough time looking for them or the right technique to find them,” he said.
In New Mexico, where the lizard can be found on both private and public lands, Shepperd said a number of companies have entered into voluntary agreements to help conserve the lizard’s habitat, mitigate threats to the lizard and remediate any damage while continuing to operate. He said he wants the same to happen in Texas. The association favors such joint agreements between the federal government and landowners to protect the lizard’s habitat while allowing drilling operations to continue responsibly.
When I ran this story by Don Quixote, he found it interesting, but suggested that it couldn’t happen, because the level of public outrage about shutting down drilling would make the decision suicidal. I disagree. Exhibit A is the spotted owl, up in northwestern logging country. The logging community made a huge uproar, but the spotted owl won. By 2000, thousands of acres of land that formerly provided wood to Americans and jobs to Oregonians were put out of play. Much of the land was private property, so there was some serious government taking involved too. The Clinton government survived. Oregon continued to vote Democrat.
Exhibit B is the delta smelt, the protection of which has decimated large parts of California’s Central Valley. The Central Valley used to be America’s bread basket. If you drove down I-5 from the North Bay to L.A., once you got past the Altamont Pass and before you reached the grapevine, it was farm land and grazing land all the way. Now, large parts of it look exactly like the Oklahoma dust bowl, circa 1930. Both the Bush and the Obama government have survived this assault on America’s food supply. California Democrats, comfortably sequestered in ultra urban Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, didn’t blink as the state’s agriculture infrastructure started to be destroyed. Food prices have gone up, but they’ve stayed within tolerable levels.
Obama has already positioned himself with a narrative for rising oil prices, and it’s not the fact that he’s shut down Gulf oil drilling, or that he’s refusing to allow new drilling or even investigation into potential future drilling. Instead, the prices are being driven by evil “speculators.” Well, he’s right about the speculators. If I had any market sechel (Yiddish for “smarts”), I’d be one too. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, with the Middle East roiling with violent upheavals, and with the federal government trying to make drilling illegal, oil prices are going to go up and up and up. The speculators are simply able to take advantage of the fact that, if demand remains roughly the same, but supplies diminish, prices go up. Even a socialist president cannot change that reality.
As for the outrage –Americans are all out of outraged. The Obama administration has attacked America’s economy and security and functionality at every single level. As my teen says, “Whoa! Too Much Information.” Why contemplate the most recent administrative agency attack on America’s way of life, when you can watch American Idol or Oprah or whatever happens to be on ESPN? As long as the economic and social fabric in your area looks as if it’s holding together, ignore the frays around the edges and the random holes in the middle.
I like animals. I do not believe that humans can abuse and destroy them at will. As I often say, we are stewards of this earth and of all its bounty. But if we wish to survive, Mother Nature (or God, take your pick) mandates that, in any given environment, animals compete for resources. Sometimes, one animal overdoes the competition, destroying other animals in the region. Sometimes this is a disaster, as was the case with the protein deficit that led to Mayan cannibalism. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter at all. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s true. The world ecosystem has survived without the wooly mammoth or the dodo. The answer is balance.
The problem, always, is that government is a sledge hammer, when a ball peen would do. It’s draconian power makes any situation unbalanced. The oil men in New Mexico have worked with the Fish and Wildlife Department, and the oil men in Texas will too. There is the potential for balance there, but that balance is not met by shutting down a whole region.
One can only hope that the Fish & Wildlife Service is playing a game of chicken in West Texas, hoping to bully the oil men into more accommodations than they’re currently willing to make. But it was no game of chicken in Oregon nor in Central California, so I’ll be convinced that this is a negotiating tactic only when both sides reach an agreement.
Cross-posted at Bookworm Room
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