Has the wind power sector found an unlikely ally in the oil and gas industry? The Permian Basin Petroleum Association contends it is standing up for both fossil fuel production and wind power development, having teamed up with four New Mexico counties to sue the federal government over a recent bird protection decision.
The lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) violated federal law in listing the lesser-prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The FWS listed the species as threatened in March, and because the chickens reside in the wind-rich states of New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, the decision will likely impact wind developers. The Permian Basin, which includes western Texas and eastern New Mexico, is also a prolific oil-producing region.
Filed in Midland, Texas, the lawsuit alleges violations of the Administrative Procedure Act and accuses the government of failing to fairly consider the expected benefits of conservation efforts already undertaken across the affected five states to improve habitat for and diminish threats to the chicken.
The lawsuit contends that government data indicate the chicken population has increased during the past decade and its occupied range has tripled in the last 30 years. The lawsuit further argues that conservation plans require participating companies to pay enrollment fees, promise to follow practices meant to minimize impacts and pay for unavoidable damages and habitat restoration, including the five-state Rangewide Conservation Plan.
The Permian Basin Petroleum Association says that as of June 3, 160 oil and gas, pipeline, electric transmission and wind energy companies had enrolled about 9 million acres in the Rangewide Conservation Plan and provided approximately $43 million for habitat conservation during the next three years.
‘The federal government's listing decision further burdens not only the region's oil and gas industry, but also ranchers, wind farmers and landowners," comments Ben Shepperd, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association. "The public and private sectors had already designed and undertaken sensible conservation efforts that protect both the lesser-prairie chicken and vital regional industries and landowners. These efforts were working before the Obama administration imposed unnecessary new regulations on the region.’
Joining the Permian Basin Petroleum Association as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Chaves, Eddy, Lea, and Roosevelt counties in eastern New Mexico. The association says the counties contain significant portions of lesser-prairie chicken range and significant amounts of oil and natural gas development, agriculture and farming.