The lizard already is “functionally extinct” across 47 percent of its range. Photo via Getty Images

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.”

It's the first time the company has used EVs in any of its upstream sites, including the Permian Basin. Photo via exxonmobil.com

ExxonMobil revs up EV pilot in Permian Basin

seeing green

ExxonMobil has upgraded its Permian Basin fleet of trucks with sustainability in mind.

The Houston-headquartered company announced a new pilot program last week, rolling out 10 new all-electric pickup trucks at its Cowboy Central Delivery Point in southeast New Mexico. It's the first time the company has used EVs in any of its upstream sites, including the Permian Basin.

“We expect these EV trucks will require less maintenance, which will help reduce cost, while also contributing to our plan to achieve net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions in our Permian operations by 2030," Kartik Garg, ExxonMobil's New Mexico production manager, says in a news release.

ExxonMobil has already deployed EV trucks at its facilities in Baytown, Beaumont, and Baton Rouge, but the Permian Basin, which accounts for about half of ExxonMobil's total U.S. oil production, is a larger site. The company reports that "a typical vehicle there can log 30,000 miles a year."

The EV rollout comes after the company announced last year that it plans to be a major supplier of lithium for EV battery technology.

At the end of last year, ExxonMobil increased its financial commitment to implementing more sustainable solutions. The company reported that it is pursuing more than $20 billion of lower-emissions opportunities through 2027.

Cowboys and the EVs of the Permian Basin | ExxonMobilyoutu.be

The data shows the biggest leaks are in the Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico. Photo via Getty Images

US energy industry methane emissions are triple what government thinks, study finds

by the numbers

American oil and natural gas wells, pipelines and compressors are spewing three times the amount of the potent heat-trapping gas methane as the government thinks, causing $9.3 billion in yearly climate damage, a new comprehensive study calculates.

But because more than half of these methane emissions are coming from a tiny number of oil and gas sites, 1% or less, this means the problem is both worse than the government thought but also fairly fixable, said the lead author of a study in Wednesday's journal Nature.

The same issue is happening globally. Large methane emissions events around the world detected by satellites grew 50% in 2023 compared to 2022 with more than 5 million metric tons spotted in major fossil fuel leaks, the International Energy Agency reported Wednesday in their Global Methane Tracker 2024. World methane emissions rose slightly in 2023 to 120 million metric tons, the report said.

“This is really an opportunity to cut emissions quite rapidly with targeted efforts at these highest emitting sites,” said lead author Evan Sherwin, an energy and policy analyst at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab who wrote the study while at Stanford University. “If we can get this roughly 1% of sites under control, then we're halfway there because that's about half of the emissions in most cases.”

Sherwin said the fugitive emissions come throughout the oil and gas production and delivery system, starting with gas flaring. That's when firms release natural gas to the air or burn it instead of capturing the gas that comes out of energy extraction. There's also substantial leaks throughout the rest of the system, including tanks, compressors and pipelines, he said.

“It's actually straightforward to fix,” Sherwin said.

In general about 3% of the U.S. gas produced goes wasted into the air, compared to the Environmental Protection Agency figures of 1%, the study found. Sherwin said that's a substantial amount, about 6.2 million tons per hour in leaks measured over the daytime. It could be lower at night, but they don't have those measurements.

The study gets that figure using one million anonymized measurements from airplanes that flew over 52% of American oil wells and 29% of gas production and delivery system sites over a decade. Sherwin said the 3% leak figure is the average for the six regions they looked at and they did not calculate a national average.

Methane over a two-decade period traps about 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide, but only lasts in the atmosphere for about a decade instead of hundreds of years like carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

About 30% of the world's warming since pre-industrial times comes from methane emissions, said IEA energy supply unit head Christophe McGlade. The United States is the No. 1 oil and gas production methane emitter, with China polluting even more methane from coal, he said.

Last December, the Biden administration issued a new rule forcing the U.S. oil and natural gas industry to cut its methane emissions. At the same time at the United Nations climate negotiations in Dubai, 50 oil companies around the world pledged to reach near zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in operations by 2030. That Dubai agreement would trim about one-tenth of a degree Celsius, nearly two-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit, from future warming, a prominent climate scientist told The Associated Press.

Monitoring methane from above, instead of at the sites or relying on company estimates, is a growing trend. Earlier this month the market-based Environmental Defense Fund and others launched MethaneSAT into orbit. For energy companies, the lost methane is valuable with Sherwin's study estimate it is worth about $1 billion a year.

About 40% of the global methane emissions from oil, gas and coal could have been avoided at no extra cost, which is “a massive missed opportunity,” IEA's McGlade said. The IEA report said if countries do what they promised in Dubai they could cut half of the global methane pollution by 2030, but actions put in place so far only would trim 20% instead, “a very large gap between emissions and actions,” McGlade said.

“It is critical to reduce methane emissions if the world is to meet climate targets,” said Cornell University methane researcher Robert Horwath, who wasn't part of Sherwin's study.

“Their analysis makes sense and is the most comprehensive study by far out there on the topic,” said Howarth, who is updating figures in a forthcoming study to incorporate the new data.

The overflight data shows the biggest leaks are in the Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico.

“It's a region of rapid growth, primarily driven by oil production,” Sherwin said. “So when the drilling happens, both oil and gas comes out, but the main thing that the companies want to sell in most cases was the oil. And there wasn't enough pipeline capacity to take the gas away” so it spewed into the air instead.

Contrast that with tiny leak rates found in drilling in the Denver region and the Pennsylvania area. Denver leaks are so low because of local strictly enforced regulations and Pennsylvania is more gas-oriented, Sherwin said.

This shows a real problem with what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association methane-monitoring scientist Gabrielle Petron calls “super-emitters."

“Reliably detecting and fixing super-emitters is a low hanging fruit to reduce real life greenhouse gas emissions,” Petron, who wasn't part of Sherwin's study, said. “This is very important because these super-emitter emissions are ignored by most ‘official’ accounting.”

Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson, who also wasn't part of the study, said, “a few facilities are poisoning the air for everyone.”

“For more than a decade, we’ve been showing that the industry emits far more methane than they or government agencies admit," Jackson said. “This study is capstone evidence. And yet nothing changes.”

A tie-up between Diamondback and Endeavor, if it succeeds, would create a player in the massive Permian Basin oil and gas field that straddles Texas and New Mexico. Photo via Unsplash

Potential $50B Texas energy giant emerges as Diamondback seeks to buy rival Endeavor

big deal

Diamondback Energy will attempt to buy rival Endeavor Energy Resources to create an energy giant in the Southwestern United States worth more than $50 billion.

Growing confidence in an economic recovery, particularly in the U.S., has driven massive deals in the energy sector in recent months, including Chevron's $53 billion acquisition of Hess in October, and a $59.5 billion deal two weeks before that by Exxon Mobil, its biggest acquisition since buying Mobil two decades ago.

A tie-up between Diamondback and Endeavor, if it succeeds, would create a player in the massive Permian Basin oil and gas field that straddles Texas and New Mexico.

It would be the third largest producer in the Permian behind Exxon and Chevron, overseeing 838,000 acres and potentially producing 816,000 oil-equivalent barrels each day.

Diamondback said Monday that it will buy Endeavor in a cash-and-stock deal valued at about $26 billion.

Endeavor is the largest private operator in the Permian Basin. Drillers can pull more than 4 million barrels of oil equivalent from the Permian daily and the rush is on to secure prime real estate in the largest oil field in the United States with little sign that the U.S. economy is slowing as many had expected.

“Our companies share a similar culture and operating philosophy and are headquartered across the street from one another, which should allow for a seamless integration of our two teams," Diamondback Chairman and CEO Travis Stice said in a prepared statement.

Despite broad expectations that it would dip into recession in a turbulent global economy, the U.S. has proven surprisingly resilient, with a red hot job market and economic growth that has surprised almost everyone. The nation’s economy grew at an unexpectedly brisk 3.3% annual pace from October through December.

Shareholders of Diamondback Energy Inc. will own about 60.5% of the combined company, while Endeavor’s equity holders would own approximately 39.5%.

“Diamondback and Endeavor’s assets are highly contiguous and offer opportunities to capture operational and overhead synergies through a combination,” Stifel's Derrick Whitfield said in an analyst note, explaining that the deal will add low-cost inventory to Diamondback's Midland Basin position.

The Diamondback, Endeavor deal confirmed Monday includes approximately 117.3 million shares of Diamondback common stock and $8 billion in cash, and will create a huge operator in the Permian Basin that straddles Texas and New Mexico.

The combined company will be based in Midland, Texas.

The boards of both companies have approved the deal, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter. It also has all of the necessary Endeavor approvals, the companies said.

Diamondback's stock rose nearly 2% before the market open.

In a new partnership with Apache Corp., researchers at BRI and Texas Native Seeds will investigate methods to improve habitat restoration efforts in the Permian Basin. Photo via Getty Images

Houston company partners on well pad restoration project in the Permian Basin

sustainability collab

Apache Corp. and the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, have partnered to launch a well pad restoration research project.

Researchers at BRI and Texas Native Seeds will investigate methods to improve habitat restoration efforts in the Permian Basin. The goal is to publish a scientific best practices reclamation document for the Permian operators. Texas Native Seeds is a project of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M Kingsville. BRI works mostly in the frontier of Texas and throughout the Southwest.

The BRI project aims to inform oil and gas industries in the Permian about how changes in the industry’s collaborative approach to restoring end-of-service well pads can benefit local biodiversity and reunite fragmented habitats.

At end of a well’s service life, when the well is plugged, equipment is removed, and the pad is reseeded, which allows it to gradually return to a natural condition. The project’s goal is to help accelerate a better return to nature by considering alternative soil preparation techniques. By adding biochar to improve soil fertility, and incorporating undesirable scrub brush as a vegetative cover to hold soil moisture and discourage grassland animals from foraging on the seeds before they germinate, researchers believe this could be done.

“We are honored to partner with the Borderlands Research Institute on this important effort, which aligns with our mission to meet the growing demand for energy and to do so in a cleaner, more sustainable way,” Jessica Jackson, Apache’s Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety, says in a news release. “For many years, Apache has worked to restore well pads to their habitat potential. To further our efforts to continuously improve, Apache is supporting scientific research at sites in the Permian Basin to study the efficacy of methods for habitat restoration.”

The project will also measure increases in soil carbon to passively sequester CO2 in healthy desert soils, which will support Sul Ross State University student research through BRI.

“We all depend on the energy produced in the Permian Basin to power our lives, and we look forward to bringing valuable science to the table to support enhanced restoration practices in the energy industry,” Dr. Louis Harveson, the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr. Endowed Director of Borderlands Research Institute adds in the release. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with Apache on this important research and applaud their leadership on this issue.”

Milestone Carbon has leased more that 22,000 acres of land in the Permian Basin for the permanent geologic sequestration of CO2. Photo via milestone-es.com

Innovative Houston-based CO2 capture company gets acquired

M&A moves

Houston-based Milestone Environmental Services announced this month that it has been acquired by affiliates of SK Capital Partners for an undisclosed amount.

The New York-based private investment firm, which specializes in the materials, ingredients, and life sciences sectors, now has a controlling stake of Milestone, which will continue to be led by its president and CEO Gabriel Rio.

Rio founded Milestone in 2014. The company is one of the largest independent providers of waste management services for the U.S. energy and industrial sectors. It focuses on permanent carbon sequestration services through its proprietary slurry injection process, which stores hydrocarbon waste over a mile underground.

The company's subsidiary, Milestone Carbon, is developing injection sites that permanently and securely sequester CO2. Earlier this month, Milestone Carbon announced that it has leased more that 22,000 acres of land in the Permian Basin for the permanent geologic sequestration of CO2 as part of the "sequestration hub" it is developing.

According to the company, once operating, the hub will help reduce emission related to natural gas processing, electricity generation and other industries. It's slated to be one of the first sequestration hubs in the basin.

"We founded Milestone to boldly advance sustainability in the energy industry and beyond," Rios says in a statement. "Our offerings enable companies to reduce their carbon footprint and enhance their ability to meet sustainability goals. Permanent, safe sequestration of carbon is an essential part of combating climate change, and Milestone has the strategy and capabilities to play a leading role in delivering solutions to multiple industries.”

According to a statement, Milestone has sequestered more than 2 million tons of CO2e through its injection process. The company has stated that it believes its sequestration hub will help attract new industries and technologies, hydrogen, low-carbon ammonia, and low-carbon power, to West Texas.

"We are highly impressed with the market-leading, sustainability-driven business that Gabriel and the Milestone management team have built," Jack Norris, a managing director of SK Capital, said in a statement. "It is well-positioned to further grow its core business in difficult-to-abate industries as environmental regulations become more stringent and Milestone’s customers are increasingly focused on meeting ambitious decarbonization targets. We are excited to partner with management to capture this growth opportunity as well as support its further progress towards becoming a leader in CCS and other related markets.”

Earlier this summer, Houston-based Occidental also got in on a carbon capture acquisition. Occidental says its all-cash acquisition of Carbon Engineering is set to close by the end of 2023. The Canada-based company focuses on direct carbon capture (DAC), which vacuums about 50 percent to 60 percent of the carbon dioxide from the air that passes through the system’s fans.

Oxy was granted $600 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop South Texas Direct Air Capture (DAC) Hub earlier this year. It’ll be located on about 106,000 leased acres within a Kleberg County site at the iconic King Ranch. The hub will comprise 30 individual DAC projects.

The U.S. Department of Energy also recently invested more than $10 million in funding for four DAC projects with Houston ties.

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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.

Houston lands on the wrong end of national pollution report

big yikes

Houston just made a list that no one wants it to be on.

Data compiled by the National Public Utilities Council ranks Houston as the 15th most polluted city in the U.S. No other Texas city appears in the ranking. Three California cities — Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno — took the top three spots.

The ranking considers a city’s average volume of fine particulate matter in the air per year. Fine particulate matter (formally known as PM2.5) includes soot, soil dust, and sulphates.

The council based its ranking on the average annual concentration of PM2.5 as measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air, known as µg/m3. The ranking lists Houston’s average annual µg/m3 as 11.4. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a top µg/m3 of 5, while the American Lung Association sets 9 µg/m as an average annual guideline.

A report released in 2024 by Smart Survey found that the Houston area had just 38 days of good air quality the previous year.

“Most of Houston’s air pollution comes from industrial sources and diesel engines, although sources as diverse as school buses and meat cooking also contribute to … the problem,” the nonprofit Air Alliance Houston says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says PM2.5 poses “the greatest risk to health” of any particulate matter. Among other health issues, fine particulate matter contributes to cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic pulmonary disease.

Among the sources of PM2.5 are wildfires, wood-burning stoves, and coal-fired plants, according to the American Lung Association.

The WHO says air pollution causes 7 million deaths annually and may cost the global economy $18 trillion to 25 trillion by 2060. With 70 percent of the population expected to live in urban centers by mid-century, cities are at the forefront of efforts to reduce pollution, according to National Public Utilities Council.