Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Complications Due to an Endangered Bug

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Complications Due to an Endangered Bug

Article excerpt

What's less than two inches long, has six legs, four spots, and cost an Oklahoma natural gas company more than $1 million last year? The American burying beetle, an endangered species.

According to Bob Drake, Oklahoma Farm Bureau vice president, that little bug has provided a classic example of how federal environmental regulations are out of touch with the realities of the oil and gas industry.

Part of our problem in Oklahoma for drilling - outside of the infrastructure and the fact that we ran all of our rigs out of the state and out of the nation through one law or another - is environmental, said Drake. You can get a subspecies to close down any job you want to in any state that you want to do it.

Drake testified regarding the matter before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Pubic Works on March 24. In the testimony, one of the areas that I covered was the burying beetle, said Drake.

The American burying beetle is an endangered species that exists primarily on a small island off the Rhode Island coast and in eastern Oklahoma, though populations are believed by some to exist in Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Massachusetts and Arkansas. But it's difficult to spot the beetle, which lives underground, and thereby conclusively confirm or deny its presence in an area.

Environmental Protection Agency officials say the beetle, which feeds on the flesh of dead animals, plays an important part in Oklahoma's ecology. By recycling carcasses, the beetle returns valuable nutrients to the soil, and may serve as an indicator species, evidencing the health of the environment.

Up until late 2002, Enogex Inc., a natural gas pipeline and energy marketing subsidiary of Oklahoma City-based OGE Energy, was able to receive environmental clearance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for pipeline construction projects in Oklahoma within 30 days. However, in October 2002, Enogex was advised by the USFWS that things had changed.

USFWS recommended that Enogex hire a biologist, who has a Section 10 permit from the USFWS and who is familiar with the beetle's living patterns, to conduct a survey in order to determine whether the beetle was present in the construction area. …

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