Despite an effort by state leaders and oil and natural gas industry representatives, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service named the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species the past week.
One step below “endangered,” the designation is aimed at protecting the chicken, which is found in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Many of the state’s oil and natural gas companies opposed the designation, in part because the states in the area have developed a conservation plan.
Kim Hatfield, Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association regulatory committee chairman, pointed out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the prairie chicken population was cut in half from 2012 to 2013 because of severe drought.
“It is unfortunate that Oklahomans will now shoulder a burdensome and expensive regulatory scheme due to a bird that has been impacted more by weather than industry activity,” Hatfield said. “Listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened will have adverse consequences for oil and natural gas producers in western Oklahoma, where a vibrant energy industry has proven to be a job creator and a blessing for landowners whose livelihoods also have been impacted by the drought.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, however, said it expects little effect on industry operations. Susan Jacobson, regional chief of the service’s endangered species division, said many oil and natural gas companies have signed up for a program that would meet the regulatory requirements.
“Those folks who enrolled going forward would not need to do anything different than what they’ve already agreed to do,” Jacobson said. “Those activities they signed up for will continue, and there would be no additional things added to what they might need to do in the future.”
As part of the program, companies in the area would pay a fee that would be used for breeding and other activities designed to support the lesser prairie chicken population.