Oil companies and the Texas state
government are urging frac sand miners in the Permian Basin to
sign up to a scheme protecting the dune sagebrush lizard.
When the dune sagebrush lizard (DSL), a
tiny reptile which lives in the shinnery oak shrubs of Texas
and New Mexico, was considered for inclusion on the US federal
government’s endangered list back in 2011, there
were fears it could bring stringent controls on the
region’s energy sector, in order to protect
The issue was put to rest with a voluntary
deal to restrict development on the lizard’s
habitat, in order to stave off the more comprehensive and
legally enforceable restrictions that would result from an
official classification as endangered.
But the Texas Conservation Plan (TCP) has
been put into jeopardy by the increased arrival of frac sand
miners, who are buying up land in areas classified as DSL
habitat, raising fears the US Fish and Wildlife Agency may once
again look to classify the lizard as endangered.
Destruction of habitat has
In a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife
Service on 10 August, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
(CPA) said it has urged frac sand miners to avoid impacting the
habitat of the DSL, warning that "the destruction of that
habitat has already begun".
"In response to a marked increase in the
demand for frac sand, mining companies recently began
purchasing or leasing large tracts of land in the Permian Basin
in Texas for frac sand mining operations," the CPS said, noting
that activity has been concentrated in areas designated as DSL
habitat in the conservation plan.
"Mining companies are focused on this area
because it is located in close proximity to extensive oil and
gas development, which represents the market for frac sand,"
the authority said.
The CPA, which has no authority to stop
the development of frac sand operations by companies that are
not signed up to the TCP, said it has communicated with
multiple frac sand miners regarding their potential impact on
The Texas Oil and Gas Association and the
Permian Basin Petroleum Association have also expressed concern
over potential encroachment on habitat, and urged frac sand
miners to comply with the TCP.
Black Mountain joins
The CPA reports that two companies have
already agree to make changes to their project plans, to
accommodate the TCP. Black Mountain Sand LLC and Vista Sand
have changed their proposals, to avoid mining in DSL habitat or
the designate buffer zone surrounding it.
On 22 August, Black Mountain Sand
announced that it had been listed as participant in the TCP by
the CPA and the Federal US Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Black Mountain recognised early the
importance of this issue and how, if handled poorly, it could
jeopardize not only frac sand mining activities, but also the
progress made by existing Permian Basin stakeholders," the
"Two other companies, Badger and Unimin,
designed their operational project plans to avoid any
disturbances in DSL Habitat and buffer," the comptroller
But the authority warned that other
companies, including Hi-Crush Proppants LLC and Fairmount
Santrol, have acquired properties in areas classified as having
a "very high likelihood of occurrence" of DSL.
The CPA noted that frac sand companies
have "been generally responsive to discussing the needs of the
In a white paper released on 21 August,
Hi-Crush stated that although its facility is located in an
area classified as having a high likelihood of DSL occurrence,
"we can state definitively that the diligence we have conducted
on our site establishes that the areas we are mining on our
site have no DSL habitat nor any DSLs".
"The site we are mining is a former dune
buggy park located on an active dune complex, virtually denuded
of vegetation, and unique in that the shinnery oak complexes
viewed as ideal DSL habitat are non-existent on the Hi-Crush
development," Hi-Crush said, adding that it supports the TCP
and is in contact the CPA.
Fairmount Santrol did not respond to a
request for comment.