Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. Photo via Getty Images

Twenty promising climatetech companies were selected to advance to the final stage of a global competition backed by Elon Musk's foundation — and three of the finalists hail from Houston.

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. XPRIZE Carbon Removal will offer $100 million to innovators who are creating solutions that removes carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or the oceans, and then sequester it sustainably.

"For the world to effectively address greenhouse gas emissions, carbon removal is an essential element of the path to Net Zero. There's no way to reverse humanity's impact on the climate without extracting carbon from our atmosphere and oceans," Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, says in a news release. "We need a range of bold, innovative CDR solutions to manage the vast quantities of CO2 released into our environment and impacting our planet.

"The teams that have been competing for this Prize are all part of building a set of robust and effective solutions and our 20 teams advancing to the final stage of XPRIZE Carbon Removal will have an opportunity to demonstrate their potential to have a significant impact on the climate," Ansari continues.

The finalists — categorized into four sections: air, rocks, oceans, and land — were selected based upon their performance in three key areas: operations, sustainability, and cost. The full list of 20 finalists is available online.

Around 20 Houston-area companies were initially identified by the challenge. Here's a look at the three that are advancing to the finals:

  • Mati, in the Rocks category, durably removes carbon from the atmosphere using basalt based enhanced rock weathering (ERW) in smallholder rice paddy farms. This process, which is being demonstrated in India, removes atmospheric CO2 while adding key nutrients in the soil helping to restore degraded soils to benefit smallholder farmers.
  • Climate Robotics, in the Land category, enables broad-scale agriculture adoption of biochar which builds soil health and removes excess carbon from the atmosphere. The company's mobile technology converts crop residues into durable biochar on the fly and in the field, making the economics work for farmers and our ecosystems.
  • Vaulted Deep, also in the Land category, delivers scalable, permanent, carbon removal by geologically sequestering carbon-filled organic wastes. Their patented slurry sequestration, which involves the geological injection of minimally processed wastes for permanent (10,000+ year) carbon removal.

"This cohort of exceptional teams represents a diversity of innovations and solutions across a range of CDR pathways, and shows the significant progress the industry is making in a short period of time," Nikki Batchelor, executive director of XPRIZE Carbon Removal, says in the release. "Over the past three years, this competition has helped accelerate the pace of technology development for a whole new industry of high-potential solutions aimed at reversing climate change."

Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country. Photo via tesla.com

Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

global greenlight

Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”

The Austin, Texas, company said it made $1.13 billion from January through March compared with $2.51 billion in the same period a year ago. Photo courtesy of Tesla

Tesla Q1 profit falls by more than half, but stock jumps amid production of cheaper vehicles

EV evolution

Tesla’s first-quarter net income plummeted 55 percent, but its stock price surged in after-hours trading Tuesday as the company said it would accelerate production of new, more affordable vehicles.

The Austin, Texas, company said it made $1.13 billion from January through March compared with $2.51 billion in the same period a year ago.

Investors and analysts were looking for some sign that Tesla will take steps to stem its stock's slide this year and grow sales. The company did that in a letter to investors Tuesday, saying that production of smaller, more affordable models will start ahead of previous guidance.

The smaller models, which apparently include the Model 2 small car that is expected to cost around $25,000, will use new generation vehicle underpinnings and some features of current models. The company said it would be built on the same manufacturing lines as its current products.

On a conference call with analysts, CEO Elon Musk said he expects production to start in the second half of next year “if not late this year.”

New factories or massive new production lines won't be needed for the new vehicles, Musk said.

“This update may result in achieving less cost reduction than previously expected but enables us to prudently grow our vehicle volumes in a more capex efficient manner during uncertain times,” the investor letter said.

But Musk gave few specifics on just what the new vehicles will be and whether they would be variants of current models. “I think we’ve said all we will on that front,” he told an analyst.

He did say that he expects Tesla to sell more vehicles this year than last year's 1.8 million.

The company also appears to be counting on a vehicle built to be a fully autonomous robotaxi as the catalyst for future earnings growth. Musk has said the robotaxi will be unveiled on Aug. 8.

Shares of Tesla rose 11 percent in trading after Tuesday’s closing bell, but they are down more than 40 percent this year. The S&P 500 index is up about 5 percent for the year.

Morningstar analyst Seth Goldstein said the company gave guidance about its future that was clearer than in the past, allaying investor concerns about production of the Model 2 and future growth. “I think for now we're likely to see the stock stabilize," he said. “I think Tesla provided an outlook today that can make investors feel more assured that management is righting the ship.”

But if sales fall again in the second quarter, the guidance will go out the window and concerns will return, he said.

Tesla reported that first-quarter revenue was $21.3 billion, down 9 percent from last year as worldwide sales dropped nearly 9 percent due to increased competition and slowing demand for electric vehicles.

Excluding one-time items such as stock-based compensation, Tesla made 45 cents per share, falling short of analyst estimates of 49 cents, according to FactSet.

The company’s gross profit margin, the percentage of revenue it gets to keep after expenses, fell once again to 17.4 percent. A year ago it was 19.3 percent, and it peaked at 29.1 percent in the first quarter of 2022.

Over the weekend, Tesla lopped $2,000 off the price of the Models Y, S and X in the U.S. and reportedly made cuts in other countries including China as global electric vehicle sales growth slowed. It also slashed the cost of “Full Self Driving” by one third to $8,000.

Tesla also announced last week that it would cut 10 percent of its 140,000 employees, and Chief Financial Officer Vaibhav Taneja said Tuesday the cuts will be across the board. Growth companies build up duplication that needs to be pruned like a tree to continue growing, he said.

Musk has been touting the robotaxi as a growth catalyst for Tesla since the hardware for it went on sale late in 2015.

In 2019, Musk promised a fleet of autonomous robotaxis by 2020 that would bring income to Tesla owners and make their car values appreciate. Instead, they've declined with price cuts, as the autonomous robotaxis have been delayed year after year while being tested by owners as the company gathers road data for its computers.

Neither Musk nor other Tesla executives on Tuesday's call would specify when they expect Tesla vehicles to drive themselves as well as humans do. Instead, Musk touted the latest version of Tesla’s autonomous driving software — which the company misleadingly brands as “Full Self Driving” despite the fact that it still requires human supervision — and said that “it’s only a matter of time before we exceed the reliability of humans, and not much time at that.”

It didn’t take the Tesla CEO long to begin expounding on the possibility of turning on self-driving capabilities for millions of Tesla vehicles at once, although again without estimating when that might actually occur. He went on to insist that “if somebody doesn’t believe that Tesla is going to solve autonomy, I think they should not be an investor in the company.”

Early last year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made Tesla recall its “Full Self-Driving” system because it can misbehave around intersections and doesn’t always follow speed limits. Tesla's less-sophisticated Autopilot system also was recalled to bolster its driver monitoring system.

Some experts don't think any system that relies solely on cameras like Tesla's can ever reach full autonomy.

In a filing with federal regulators early Wednesday, the company said it would ask shareholders to vote on both issues during its annual meeting on June 13. Photo via Getty Images

Tesla wants shareholders to vote for $56B Musk pay package, Texas HQ move

decisions to be made

Tesla will ask shareholders to reinstate a $56 billion compensation package for CEO Elon Musk that was rejected by a judge in Delaware this year, and to move the electric car maker’s corporate home from Delaware to Texas.

In a filing with federal regulators early Wednesday, the company said it would ask shareholders to vote on both issues during its annual meeting on June 13.

In January, Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled that Musk is not entitled to a landmark compensation package awarded by Tesla’s board of directors that is potentially worth about $55.8 billion over 10 years starting in 2018.

Five years ago, a Tesla shareholder lawsuit alleged that the pay package should be voided because it was dictated by Musk and was the product of sham negotiations with directors who were not independent of him.

Musk said a month after the judge's ruling that he would try to move Tesla's corporate listing to Texas, where he has already moved company headquarters.

Almost immediately after the judge's ruling, Musk did exactly that with Neuralink, his privately held brain implant company, moving its corporate home from Delaware to Nevada.

In a letter to shareholders this week, Chairperson Robyn Denholm said that Musk has delivered on the growth it was looking for at the automaker, with Tesla meeting all of the stock value and operational targets in a 2018 CEO pay package that was approved by shareholders.

“Because the Delaware Court second-guessed your decision, Elon has not been paid for any of his work for Tesla for the past six years that has helped to generate significant growth and stockholder value,” Denholm wrote. “That strikes us — and the many stockholders from whom we already have heard — as fundamentally unfair, and inconsistent with the will of the stockholders who voted for it.”

Tesla posted record deliveries of more than 1.8 million electric vehicles worldwide in 2023, according to a regulatory filing. But the value its shares has eroded quickly this year as sales of electric vehicles soften.

Future growth is in doubt and it may be a challenge to get shareholders to back a fat pay package in an environment where competition has increased worldwide and demand for electric vehicle sales is fading.

Tesla's shares have lost more than one third of their value this year as massive price cuts have failed to draw more buyers. The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9% fewer than it sold in the same period last year.

Shareholders also will be asked to cast a nonbinding advisory vote on 2023 executive compensation.

But the proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission does not address Musk’s demand to own 25% of Tesla shares for him to pursue artificial intelligence and robotics at the company. At present he owns 20.5% of the company.

In January Musk challenged the Tesla board in a post on X, the social media platform he now owns, to come up with a new compensation package. Unless he gets 25%, he wrote that he’d prefer to build products outside of Tesla, apparently with another company.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives, who is normally bullish on Tesla, said in an interview that the filing doesn't address multiple issues including Musk's future compensation.

“It's the elephant in the room because Musk has threatened over X, and it's been a massive overhang" for Tesla stock, Ives said.

Musk, he said, needs to commit to being Tesla CEO for three to five years and developing artificial intelligence with the company. When the company announces first-quarter earnings next week, Musk needs to spell out plans for future growth, including the status of the Model 2, a small EV that costs about $25,000, Ives said. Otherwise, dark days lie ahead, he said.

“Investors are not just taking Musk's word,” he said. “There's a feeling like the plane is crashing into the ocean and the board is focused on their own salted peanuts.”

Musk has less leverage than he did in January because of this year's stock slide. “He went from Cinderella story to the Nightmare on Elm Street in a matter of six months,” Ives said.

At the time of the Delaware court ruling, Musk’s package was worth more than $55.8 billion, but the court may have cost the mercurial CEO over $10 billion due to the company’s stock slide this year. The filing said Musk’s 2018 compensation was worth $44.9 billion at the close of trading on April 12.

Since last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla’s profit margins.

This week, Tesla said it was letting about 10% of its workers go, about 14,000 people.

In the filing, Tesla's board wrote that the decision to seek shareholder approval of Musk's 2018 pay package was made by the board after it received a report from a special committee of one board member, Kathleen Wilson-Thompson.

The board wrote that if there is any significant vote against future executive pay packages, “we will consider our stockholders' concerns, and the compensation committee will evaluate whether any actions are necessary to address those concerns.”

Shares of Tesla Inc., which slid another 8% this week, fell about 1% Wednesday.

The layoffs could affect about 14,000 of the 140,473 workers employed by the Austin, Texas, company at the end of last year. Photo courtesy of Tesla

Tesla plans to lay off 10 percent of workforce after dismal quarterly sales

making cuts

After reporting dismal first-quarter sales, Tesla is planning to lay off about a tenth of its workforce as it tries to cut costs, multiple media outlets reported Monday.

CEO Elon Musk detailed the plans in a memo sent to employees. The layoffs could affect about 14,000 of the 140,473 workers employed by the Austin, Texas, company at the end of last year.

Musk's memo said that as Tesla prepares for its next phase of growth, “it is extremely important to look at every aspect of the company for cost reductions and increasing productivity,” The New York Times and CNBC reported. News of the layoffs was first reported by electric vehicle website Electrek.

Also Monday, two key Tesla executives announced on the social media platform X that they are leaving the company. Andrew Baglino, senior vice president of powertrain and energy engineering, wrote that he had made the decision to leave after 18 years with the company.

Rohan Patel, senior global director of public policy and business development, also wrote on X that he was leaving Tesla, after eight years.

Baglino, who held several top engineering jobs at the company and was chief technology officer, wrote that the decision to leave was difficult. “I loved tackling nearly every problem we solved as a team and feel gratified to have contributed to the mission of accelerating the transition to sustainable energy,” he wrote.

He has no concrete plans beyond spending more time with family and his young children, but wrote that he has difficulty staying still for long.

Musk thanked Baglino in a reply. “Few have contributed as much as you,” he wrote.

Shares of Tesla fell 4.8 percent Monday afternoon, hours after news of the layoffs and departures broke. Shares of Tesla Inc. have lost about one-third of their value so far this year as sales of electric vehicles soften.

Tesla sales fell sharply last quarter as competition increased worldwide, electric vehicle sales growth slowed, and price cuts failed to draw more buyers. The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9 percent below the 423,000 it sold in the same quarter of last year.

Since last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models as it faced increasing competition and slowing demand. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla's profit margins.

The company has said it will reveal an autonomous robotaxi at an event in August.

Tesla, based in Austin, has reported its biggest drop in sales in four years. Photo courtesy of Tesla

Tesla starts off 2024 with tumble in sales

in a decline

Tesla sales fell sharply last quarter as competition increased worldwide, electric vehicle sales growth slowed, and price cuts failed to lure more buyers.

The Texas company said Tuesday that it delivered 386,810 vehicles worldwide from January through March, almost 9% below the 423,000 it sold in the same quarter of last year. It was the first year-over-year quarterly sales decline in nearly four years.

Sales also fell short of even the most bearish Wall Street expectations. Auto industry analysts polled by FactSet were looking for 457,000 vehicle deliveries from Tesla Inc. That's a shortfall of more than 15%.

The company blamed the decline in part on phasing in an updated version of the Model 3 sedan at its Fremont, California, factory, plant shutdowns due to shipping diversions in the Red Sea, and an arson attack that knocked out power to its German factory.

But TD Cowen Analyst Jeffrey Osborne wrote in a note to investors that weaker March sales indicate that incentives, including discounts and a free trial of “Full Self Driving” software, “did not work as demand deteriorated.”

Despite the sales decline, Tesla was able to retake its global EV sales crown from China's BYD, which sold just over 300,000 electric vehicles during the quarter, Osborne wrote.

In its letter to investors in January, Tesla predicted “notably lower” sales growth this year. The letter said Tesla is between two big growth waves, one from global expansion of the Models 3 and Y, and a second coming from the Model 2, a new, smaller and less expensive vehicle with an unknown release date.

“This was an unmitigated disaster 1Q that is hard to explain away,” wrote Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush who has been very bullish on Tesla's stock. The drop in sales was far worse than expected, he wrote in a note to investors.

The quarter is a “seminal moment” in the Tesla growth story, Ives wrote, adding that CEO Elon Musk will have to turn the company around. “Otherwise, some darker days could clearly be ahead that could disrupt the long-term Tesla narrative.”

Ives maintained his Outperform rating on Tesla's shares and cut his one-year price target from $315 to $300. Ives estimated that China sales slid 3% to 4% during the period.

Shares of Tesla tumbled 4.9% to close Tuesday at $166.63, continuing an extended decline. Investors have shaved 33% off the value of the company so far this year, dumping shares after growing leery of the tremendous growth story that Tesla has been telling.

“Street criticism is warranted as growth has been sluggish and (profit) margins showing compression, with China a horror show and competition increasing from all angles,” Ives wrote.

Tesla dramatically lowered U.S. prices by up to $20,000 for some models last year. In March it temporarily knocked $1,000 off the Model Y, its top-selling vehicle. Those price cuts narrowed the company’s profit margins and spooked investors.

Analysts polled by FactSet expected the average selling price for Model Y to be $41,000 last quarter, $5,000 less than a year ago and $15,000 lower than the peak of $56,000 in June of 2022.

Tesla's sales numbers also pulled down shares of its U.S. EV competitors. Shares of Rivian fell 5.2%, while Lucid stock dropped 3.5% on Tuesday.

Deliveries of the Models 3 and Y, fell 10.3% year over year to 369,783. Sales of the company's other models, the aging X and S and the new Cybertruck, rose almost 60% to 17,027. Tesla produced 10.7% more vehicles than it sold during the first quarter.

Softer-than-expected first-quarter sales are reducing analyst expectations for Tesla's quarterly earnings ahead of their scheduled release on April 23.

Tesla’s sales come against the backdrop of a slowing market for electric vehicles in the U.S. EV sales grew 47% last year to a record 1.19 million as EV market share rose to 7.6%. But sales growth slowed toward the end of the year. In December, they rose 34%.

Updated EV sales numbers will come later Tuesday when most automakers report U.S. sales.

Other automakers also have had to cut electric vehicle production and reduce prices to move EVs off dealership lots. Ford, for instance, cut production of the F-150 Lightning electric pickup, and lopped up to $8,100 off the price of the Mustang Mach E electric SUV in order to sell 2023 models.

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Greentown Labs to launch another executive search, CEO to step down after less than a year in the position

on the hunt

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

Houston expert: How to make the EV switch while factoring in impact, cost

Guest Column

Americans are in the midst of getting to know electric cars up close and personal. The finer points of charging and battery technology are now becoming mainstream news.

However, there’s a secret about electric vehicles (EVs) that very few people know, because very few people have driven an electric car with 50,000 or 100,000 miles on it. Very often, EVs drive like new even if they’ve clocked up the miles. No rattles and no shakes, and importantly there is no loss of efficiency, unlike gas cars which tend to lose fuel efficiency as they age. Most strikingly, battery degradation and loss of range is often minimal — even after the odometer hits 6 digits.

What does this mean? At a time when car payments, repair costs and gas prices are all weighing on consumer wallets, we are about to enter an era when it will get easier than ever before for Americans to find a great driving, longer lasting car that saves on fuel costs and needs less maintenance.

This represents an amazing source of value for American drivers to be tapped into - plus even more positive changes for the auto sector, and the potential for new business models.

Narratives about EVs have focused on fears about battery degradation and today’s models becoming dated as technology rapidly advances. The fact that we are all habituated to replacing smartphone batteries that fade within 2 to 3 years doesn’t help.

Auto manufacturers have put 100,000 mile warranties on batteries, but this may have created the perception that this is a ceiling, rather than a floor, for what can be expected from an EV battery.

EV batteries are performing much better than your last smartphone battery. We know this with growing certainty because it’s backed up by evidence. Data reveals that older Teslas average only 12 percent loss of original range at 200,000 miles — double the warranty period.

Furthermore, battery advances are happening at an encouraging pace. You can expect that newer batteries will start with higher ranges and degrade even more slowly. And even after they do, the value shorter range will increase as charging infrastructure matures.

In other words, a 2024 Volkswagen ID.4 with 291 miles of range may be down to 260 miles by the time it has put on 100,000 miles. But in the 5 to 7 years that typically takes, the buildout of charging stations means that range will have much more utility than today.

So in sum, electric vehicles can be expected to last longer with lower maintenance. Over-the-air software upgrades, and perhaps even computing hardware upgrades, will keep them feeling modern. Charging infrastructure will improve much faster than range will degrade. And crucially for the value of these cars, the drive quality will remain great much further into product lifetime.

The trend for driving older cars is already here – the average age of a car on US roads is 12 years old and rising. But now this will shift towards better quality, plus fuel savings, for more people.

New business models and services will help customers take advantage — especially those customers for whom lower cost EVs will represent a step up and savings on the cost of living.

At Houston-based Octopus Electric Vehicles, we are doing this today with something virtually unheard of: leasing pre-owned cars. With electric cars that are 1 to 4 years old, with clean histories and in excellent cosmetic and mechanical condition but depreciated relative to new EV prices, we are frequently able to offer discounts of 30 percent or more, even against heavily incentivized lease offers from automakers. And, because EV maintenance needs are lower, we can throw in free scheduled maintenance with our monthly payment, delivered by a mobile mechanic service.

The secret value of higher-mileage EVs won’t stay secret for long. There’s no replacing first hand experience, and you can probably get that the next time you order an Uber or Lyft by choosing their EV ride options. Before your ride is up, try to guess what’s on the odometer. You may be surprised to hear from your driver that the car you thought was brand new has 50,000 or 100,000 miles on it.

———

Nathan Wyeth is the United States co-lead at Octopus Electric Vehicles.

New endangered listing for rare lizard could slow oil and gas drilling in Texas, New Mexico

to save the species

Federal wildlife officials declared a rare lizard in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas an endangered species Friday, citing future energy development, sand mining and climate change as the biggest threats to its survival in one of the world’s most lucrative oil and natural gas basins.

“We have determined that the dunes sagebrush lizard is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. It concluded that the lizard already is “functionally extinct” across 47 percent of its range.

Much of the the 2.5-inch-long (6.5-centimeter), spiny, light brown lizard's remaining habitat has been fragmented, preventing the species from finding mates beyond those already living close by, according to biologists.

“Even if there were no further expansion of the oil and gas or sand mining industry, the existing footprint of these operations will continue to negatively affect the dunes sagebrush lizard into the future,” the service said in its final determination, published in the Federal Register.

The decision caps two decades of legal and regulatory skirmishes between the U.S. government, conservationists and the oil and gas industry. Environmentalists cheered the move, while industry leaders condemned it as a threat to future production of the fossil fuels.

The decision provides a “lifeline for survival” for a unique species whose “only fault has been occupying a habitat that the fossil fuel industry has been wanting to claw away from it,” said Bryan Bird, the Southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife.

“The dunes sagebrush lizard spent far too long languishing in a Pandora’s box of political and administrative back and forth even as its population was in free-fall towards extinction,” Bird said in a statement.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association and the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association expressed disappointment, saying the determination flies in the face of available science and ignores longstanding state-sponsored conservation efforts across hundreds of thousands of acres and commitment of millions of dollars in both states.

“This listing will bring no additional benefit for the species and its habitat, yet could be detrimental to those living and working in the region,” PBPA President Ben Shepperd and NMOGA President and CEO Missi Currier said in a joint statement, adding that they view it as a federal overreach that can harm communities.

Scientists say the lizards are found only in the Permian Basin, the second-smallest range of any North American lizard. The reptiles live in sand dunes and among shinnery oak, where they feed on insects and spiders and burrow into the sand for protection from extreme temperatures.

Environmentalists first petitioned for the species' protection in 2002, and in 2010 federal officials found that it was warranted. That prompted an outcry from some members of Congress and communities that rely on oil and gas development for jobs and tax revenue.

Several Republican lawmakers sent a letter to officials in the Obama administration asking to delay a final decision, and in 2012, federal officials decided against listing the dunes sagebrush lizard.

Then-U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at the time that the decision was based on the “best available science” and because of voluntary conservation agreements in place in New Mexico and Texas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in Friday's decision that such agreements “have provided, and continue to provide, many conservation benefits” for the lizard, but “based on the information we reviewed in our assessment, we conclude that the risk of extinction for the dunes sagebrush lizard is high despite these efforts.”

Among other things, the network of roads will continue to restrict movement and facilitate direct mortality of dunes sagebrush lizards from traffic, it added, while industrial development “will continue to have edge effects on surrounding habitat and weaken the structure of the sand dune formations.”