Fox Pumps Big Oil's Claim To Be Suffering From "Reptile Dysfunction"June 2, 2011 12:53 PM EDT ››› CHELSEA RUDMAN
The June 2 broadcast of Fox & Friends devoted two segments to hyping GOP lawmakers' and oil companies' claims that a Texas lizard will cost "thousands of Texas oil jobs" and could cause "the price of gas [to] go up as well."
The segments centered on this: environmental groups have long been asking the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the dunes sagebrush lizard -- whose habitat in New Mexico and Texas has been severely threatened by "oil and gas activities, and herbicide treatments" -- as an endangered species. Oil companies and Texas lawmakers say the listing would harm the oil and gas industry in the Permian Basin, an area of prolific oil fields in which the lizards' habitat is located. Environmentalists say such claims are greatly exaggerated and that the area of affected land is very small.
Of course, you can guess how this unfolded on the very environmentally-unfriendly Fox News Channel. First, co-host Steve Doocy invited Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a vocal opponent of designating the lizard as an endangered species, on the show to explain how the designation could, in Doocy's words, cost "thousands of Texas oil jobs" and cause "the price of gas [to] go up." From the show:
DOOCY: But I know you guys are in a pickle down there. In fact, you describe this situation with the lizard as what?
PATTERSON: Well, we call it down here reptile dysfunction, because that's exactly what it is. It can put a dysfunctional situation on oil and gas exploration production in Texas.
DOOCY: OK, so we showed a little picture of that little lizard. Now, we did this story yesterday, talking about how thousands of Texas oil jobs could actually become extinct if that thing is put on that list. How would that happen?
PATTERSON: Well, if you cannot go through your normal process of bid sales for leases and -- we made almost a third of a billion dollars last spring just for the right to drill. And all that money in Texas goes to public education.
PATTERSON: So this is a big deal. When you start taking an area of Texas, the Permian Basin, which is probably the most prolific field in the lower 48 states -- you take that and you put this pall over production, exploration and production, then you bring it to a screeching halt. You could actually impact the price of the gas in the United States by, you know, by the speculators, whatever you want to call them --
PATTERSON: -- that will react to the news of another area that's off-limits to exploration and production.
DOOCY: So not only would thousands of people lose their jobs, but the price of gas would go up as well and, that -- you know, it's important to keep those things alive, but how many are there?
PATTERSON: Well, I don't think anybody knows. I mean, they did a very cursory inspection. Their data is collected four years ago. They had a policy that if they went out in a particular area and they didn't find a lizard within one hour, they said that, you know, it's endangered, and you can't just look at the lizard on the ground. You got to catch him. You got to turn him over on his belly, and you got to count the number of scales down around his abdomen.
DOOCY: You're kidding.
PATTERSON: It's not something you can identify from afar. So I'm not sure the lizard is extinct or is endangered as they say it is. The science is insufficient. And this is a very severe economic impact, not just for Texas, but for the entire United States.
Later during the broadcast, Fox Business host Eric Bolling -- Fox's favorite shill for the oil industry -- also appeared on the show to explain how the lizard's listing could "shoot gasoline prices up":
DOOCY: [S]peaking of gas, a little while ago we had the Texas land commissioner on our program--
BOLLING: I heard that.
DOOCY: -- talking about the sand dune lizard which if it is -- apparently it is endangered, and they're worried about it becoming extinct. If that is placed on the endangered species list, thousands of people could be, in the Texas oil industry, kicked out of work because they need to protect that thing that nobody can find.
BOLLING: Right. And millions of barrels of oil will be pulled off the market. That will shoot gasoline prices up. This is the Endangered Species Act list that these environmental groups, like the Center for Biological Diversity, this guy who put that thing on the map, that lizard on the map, he's now come forward with another one. It's a one-inch seahorse, hopefully we have a picture of it, I sent it in, I hope we have it -- one inch sea horse in the Gulf of Mexico. They're trying to get that -- that little guy right there --
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): It's cute, Eric.
BOLLING: Cute as he is, you can't ride him, and what they want to do is blame that guy for kind of becoming extinct, so they want to stop drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
BOLLING: Millions and millions of barrels of our oil.
CARLSON: So wait a minute. Do you think it's a political situation?
BOLLING: No, no. Here is what they do. It is. It's all political. They put these things, they bring literally thousands of lawsuits, and they try and get these things on the list. Mr. Obama has a green agenda. No question about it. Steven Chu is green; he's the Energy Secretary. Ken Salazar, the Interior Secretary -- also very green, permatoriums and what not. The new guy, this is very important -- the guy that he, Obama nominated on Tuesday for the commerce secretary job, his name is John Bryson. There are those of us who watch this stuff carefully -- you can almost call him an eco-terrorist. He is --
BOLLING: He is so pro-green.
Let's take these one at a time.
First of all, there has been no report finding that "thousands of Texas oil jobs could become extinct" if the dunes sagebrush lizard is listed as endangered. That's certainly what oilmen and Republican lawmakers have claimed. But here's what Fox didn't tell you. As The Houston Chronicle reported on May 30:
The lizard, [environmentalists] say, has a specific habitat that accounts for 600,000 acres, or less than 1 percent, of all oil lands in the Permian Basin.
"There is more than enough land to explore and drill and to protect the dunes sagebrush lizard," said Noah Greenwald, director of the endangered species program for the Center for Biological Diversity.
A May 6 NYT Greenwire post also noted (emphasis in the original):
Under a listing, federal agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service would be required to consult with FWS and obtain "biological opinions" for permitting activities that could affect the lizard. The vast majority of projects are allowed to proceed if they implement conservation measures to mitigate impacts to species, FWS said.
"Overall, we anticipate that effects to oil and gas and ranching operations should be minimal, but there may be delays due to the time required to complete [ESA] consultations or the HCP process," the agency said in a fact sheet (pdf) on its website. "There should be no significant time delays for those participating in the CCA/CCAA."
As for the implication that the data is unclear about how many lizards there are, and Bolling's claims that this lizard's potential listing is part of Obama's "green agenda," the FWS actually agreed to list the lizard in 2004. As The Houston Chronicle noted:
The Tucson, Ariz.-based group [Center for Biological Diversity] petitioned the federal government to list the lizard as an endangered species in 2002, arguing that increased oil and gas activity on public lands in New Mexico had left the species without enough habitat to survive. Ranchers also made the situation worse by using a herbicide spray to remove shinnery oak [the lizard's habitat], which is toxic to cattle.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials agreed to list the lizard in 2004 but did not formally propose it until last December because of a backlog of other animals facing greater peril. A final decision will be made in December.
So that would have been...under the Bush administration. Does Bolling think the Bush administration, too, was "so pro-green?"
Finally, even in the event that the lizard somehow shut down entire regions of Texas oil production -- a baseless projection being tossed out by oil companies -- small changes in domestic oil production do not lead to huge changes in price at the gas pump. As Media Matters has repeatedly documented, experts have agreed that because crude oil is a global commodity, changes in domestic production rarely affect the price, which is set by global supply and demand.
Hmm. Sounds like these little lizards aren't threatening big oil as much as Fox would have us believe.