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Lesser Prairie Chicken Could Impede Oil and Gas Development

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Lesser Prairie Chicken on a list of “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act, providing it with a certain level of protection. The designation is one level below the much more strict “endangered” status, but its listing may still cause headaches for the oil and gas industry in the five states in which the listing applies – Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

“The lesser prairie-chicken is in dire straits,” said Dan Ashe, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Fuel Fix. “The bird is in decline and has been in decline for more than a decade.”

The population of the Lesser Prairie Chicken fell below 18,000 individuals last year – dropping to almost half of what it was the year before. More than 80% of the chicken’s habitat has been destroyed, from a combination of development from the oil, gas, and wind power industries, as well as ranching and the construction of power lines. The states have adopted a conservation plan with the intention of increasing the birds’ population to 67,000, but the oil and gas industry has a large presence in these states and has argued that regulations intended to protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken could cost the industry millions of dollars, particularly in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico.

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Several of the governors in the five affected states oppose the listing, criticizing the federal government’s “overreach.” But some environmental groups are also unhappy with Fish and Wildlife’s plan to allow states to have flexibility in managing their conservation plans. “The key thing is, states will remain in the driver’s seat in management and conservation of this bird,” Ashe said. Fish and Wildlife issued a special rule that will more or less allow oil and gas drilling to continue in many places – a rule that environmental groups call a loophole.

By James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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