Modified Oil Well Shows Cooperation with Lizard

Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

ANDREWS COUNTY - For more than a year now, the dunes sagebrush lizard has put the Permian Basin in an uproar, fearing its listing on the endangered species list will halt oil and gas production.

But at one ConocoPhillips oil well in Andrews County on Wednesday, the battle lines were drawn back and a sign of cooperation was seen.

This possibility drew a visit from officials all the way from our nation's capital.

"You're seeing a new template for cooperation between industry and between conservation values and I think if we can succeed here, we can also see great success in other areas," Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, said.

The lizard's habitat spreads nearly 200,000 acres across the state. But this one-acre plat doesn't touch the dunes.

This comes after ConocoPhillips signed their current and future oil wells under the Texas Conservation Plan, spearheaded by Comptroller Susan Combs.

"The importance of signing lands like these up in these candidate conservation agreements is that it does open up the opportunity that we may be able to avoid the need to list a species like the dunes sagebrush lizard so we need as much acreage signed up as we can possibly get," Dan Ash, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said.

The site will be producing 11 barrels of oil and 50 barrels of water a day.

Salazar along with the Fish and Wildlife Service arrived to see demonstrations of the site's new conservation methods.

The site sits 30 feet away from the dunes, that's just one of the plan's requirements.

According to the plan, oil workers at this well may now be required to do some of their work only when the lizards are inactive and restrict their traffic to only existing roads.

They're also now charged with looking after the lizard's habitat, clearing mesquite and eliminating aerial herbicide sprays for weed control.

It comes at a cost, too.

"The requirements, the costs to move a well location away from the habitat can be as much as $200,000 per well so it's not an insignificant cost to us," Bill Patterson, General Manager for the ConocoPhillips Midcontinent Business Unit, said.

It comes as a perk to the company too.

Under the plan, oil and gas developers will keep the green light even if the lizard is listed.

With the listing deadline coming up in mid-June, officials hope more companies sign up to show that cooperation can be made.

"Be not afraid," Salazar said. "We're going to be able to prove to the world that you can do energy development and you can do conservation."