Midland, Texas — Monarch butterflies, tiny lizards, and a type of grouse known as the lesser prairie chicken all drew close scrutiny from a large gathering of oil and gas executives at the Permian Basin Petroleum Association's annual meeting this year.
Fracking has helped turn the Permian Basin into the nation's most productive oil field — and the only part of the U.S. where the oil industry continues to expand robustly despite a price slump that began in mid-2014.
But the parched Permian Basin is also home to a broad array of rare wildlife, including a significant number of species already considered threatened or endangered. With the Fish and Wildlife Service considering adding dozens more species in Texas to their lists, the oil industry here is sweating (and not simply because last month was the warmest October in Midland in over 80 years of record-keeping).
Endangered species may prove to be an unexpected Achilles heel for the Permian drilling industry as it attempts to turn the deserts of west Texas into an oil “well factory” — a dense field of wellpads, pipelines and access roads built right amid unique ecosystems and habitats for wild animals that may be at risk of extinction.