Threatened Species and Oil Companies: Match Made in Heaven or Fox in the Hen House?

Sep 11, 2013

dunes sagebrush lizard

Would you put the fox in charge of guarding the hen house?  That’s what critics are saying about the biggest players in the energy industry taking a major role in protecting endangered species according to The Texas Tribune

The concept of a “wildlife habitat exchange,” is an arrangement where oil and gas companies that disturb habitat would pay landowners to set aside land for habitat conservation.  Oil and gas companies like:  ExxonMobil, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, BP, and Sandridge Energy are looking at taking a big role in protecting habitat and the creatures that live there, endangered or not. 

There are two current projects experimenting with the concept.  Lobbyists for The Texas Oil and Gas Association is overseeing a plan to conserve habitat for the dunes sagebrush lizard.  ExxonMobil lobbyists incorporated a foundation overseeing a conservation plan for the lesser prairie chicken.  The chicken is prevalent in the Permian Basin, and is currently under review for placement on the endangered list. 

The Environmental Defense Fund and the environmental consulting firm, Natural Resources Solutions, helped write the plans, and support the idea.  They say it’s the best hope for protecting animals without crippling economic development. 

Wildlife advocates as well as some public officials say the concept has promise, but it is doomed to fail in Texas because its directed by the industries that do the most damage to the habitat. 

Jake Li is a policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife based in Washington, D.C.  He said, “You’re not only allowing the fox to guard the henhouse, but also to build it.”   His organization recently sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered.