Oil and gas officials scramble after feds weigh new species protections

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Oil and gas producers in one of the most active drilling areas in the country have had to make concessions to not disturb species such as the lesser prairie chicken and the dunes sagebrush lizard.

Now industry officials in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico may have four other species to contend with: make way for the Cascade Caverns salamander, the Arizona toad, the alligator snapping turtle and the Rio Grande cooter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday it is giving what it calls "status reviews" to the four amphibians and reptiles found in the Southwest as part of 21 species the agency said are worth considering after looking over requests from the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity.

"Although few people have heard of, let alone seen, a Cascade Caverns salamander or Rio Grande cooter, these unique species are an important part of the web of life and of what makes the Southwest unique," Collette Adkins, a lawyer and biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "Without Endangered Species Act protection, we're likely to lose these rare turtles, toads and salamanders forever."

In its own statement, the USFWS said, "The findings do not mean that the Service has decided to grant federal protections to these species. Rather, the findings trigger a more thorough review of all the biological information available for the species."

A 60-day information collection period will wrap up Aug. 31.

Listing any species as endangered would make oil and gas development in those areas much more difficult.

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