Be careful what you ask for.
For years, the oil and natural gas industry has complained about the elaborate steps federal regulators require before companies can drill or lay pipe in much of northern and eastern Oklahoma — home to the endangered American burying beetle.
Companies had been required to hire biologists to bait and trap the bug using Styrofoam cups and rotten chicken before moving the insects out of the way.
Industry leaders have objected to the regulations, saying they were too costly and questioning their effectiveness.
They got their wish.
But it's not the answer they were hoping for.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service this fall ended the memorandum of understanding that outlined how companies were to deal with the endangered beetle.
Unfortunately for the industry, no alternative method has been suggested.
“It's illegal to kill beetles, but getting general guidance on how not to is a challenge, given that these two main conservation measures are no longer allowed,” said Tim Basham, operations manager of the environmental services group at Enercon Services Inc. in Oklahoma City.
Basham spoke at the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association's annual meeting last month.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's website describing how to handle the endangered bug now includes red text stating that baiting and trapping “has been removed as a conservation method.”
The government and industry are working together to develop a General Conservation Plan. But it's not ready yet.
With no memorandum of understanding in place, Basham said the Fish and Wildlife Service now addresses burying beetle issues on a case-by-case basis through a sometimes long and costly review process.
The government recently reached a settlement with TransCanada on its proposed Keystone XL pipeline route, where the Canadian pipeline company agreed to buy and protect in perpetuity three acres for every one acre it disturbed.
The government lists 1,114 species as endangered. Most of those species have clearly defined habitats that can be avoided.
The American burying beetle, however, has a wide habitat range, including hills, plains, valleys, forests and grasslands.
“While this species is endangered across much of its range, it is very common in Oklahoma and Nebraska,” Basham said. “It's an uncommon problem to be constantly running into endangered species.”