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Dunes sagebrush lizard
Las Cruces Sun-News, May 4, 2011

Group: Lizard doesn't impact oil and gas development
By Milan Simonich

SANTA FE - The dunes sagebrush lizard occupies such a small part of the Permian Basin that protecting it would have no effect on the oil and gas industry, a conservation group said a study released today.

The lizard lives in less than 1 percent of the public lands where oil and gas drilling was proposed in 2010 and this year, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

It focused on areas proposed for oil and gas development that would leased through the Bureau of Land Management field offices in Carlsbad and Roswell.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, is leading a fight against the dunes sagebrush lizard being protected by the federal government as an endangered species.

Pearce said listing the lizard would have "devastating" effects on the oil and gas industry in southeastern New Mexico.

The study drew the opposite conclusion.

"Representative Pearce's outlandish claim that the dunes sagebrush lizard will be a huge job-killer for the oil and gas industry simply isn't backed up by the facts," said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, and author of the report. "This endangered animal occupies a fraction of the public lands proposed for oil and gas drilling. Even where the lizard lives, drilling can go forward in almost every instance."

Asked for a response, Pearce's press secretary said he had "a considerable amount" of information regarding the lizard and would provide it later.

The dunes sagebrush lizard has been documented only in four counties of New Mexico -- Chaves, Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt -- and four others in West Texas.

In his report, Lininger listed these findings:

In 2010 and the first half of this year, the BLM offered 52,874 acres for lease in southeastern New Mexico. Only 2,920 of those acres, or 5.5 percent, were identified by the BLM as habitat for the lizard. The agency determined that drilling could go forward on all those acres, subject to conditions intended to protect habitat.

For the second half of 2011, the BLM has proposed 22,383 acres for possible leasing. Up to 3,484 acres may be habitat for the lizard, according to the BLM.

Of those, the agency will allow drilling on 2,924 acres and defer leasing on 560 acres. That is less than 1 percent of all areas proposed for drilling since January 2010.

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Photo © Paul S. Hamilton