Conservation Relationships: Energy & Natural Resource Conservation

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  1. Conservation Relationships: Energy & Natural Resource Conservation

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    In 2021, Texas accounted for 43% of the United States’ crude oil production. The same year, our state produced 26% of the country’s wind-powered energy, leading the nation for the 16th year in a row. Energy, renewable and non-renewable, is a key component of our economic ecosystem, employing over 347,000 Texans with an average annual wage of $140,000. The economic advantages produced by the energy industry in our state are undeniable. However, misconceptions surrounding the relationship between energy production and natural resource conservation have created a perception of conflict between the two– but we see opportunity.

    For Texan by Nature, energy leadership and natural resource diversity mean Texas holds the power to shape models of conservation globally. What we do here matters and how we do it impacts people, prosperity, and natural resources. It will take collaborative relationships between industry and conservation to rise to the challenge of natural resource conservation. By dispelling common misconceptions, we can foster more partnerships and encourage greater collaboration.

    “The energy industry in Texas does not collaborate with conservation organizations or communities.”

    Some of the most exciting collaborations in conservation are being catalyzed by leaders in the energy industry. Our business members often ask, “What can we do that is truly impactful?” This eagerness to invest in projects that tangibly benefit natural resources and communities has yielded transformative collaborations.

    Dark Skies in the Permian Basin

    The world-renowned McDonald Observatory is located atop Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes under the darkest skies in the continental United States. This area of West Texas is also known as the Permian basin, one of the most prolific oil and natural gas regions in the United States. Here, Apache Corp. worked proactively with the McDonald Observatory to develop dark skies measures for their facilities and help to promote best practices across the region. 

    Apache Corporation tank battery using the latest dark sky friendly LED lighting technology. Note the light sources themselves are shielded from view, reducing glare, while providing a well lit working area. No light shines directly into the sky. Photo: Bill Wren/McDonald Observatory.

    This collaboration helped the Observatory publish a “Recommended Lighting Practices” guide, endorsed by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association (PBPA), Texas Oil & Gas Association (TxOGA), American Petroleum Institute (API), University Lands, Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association(TIPRO) and Texan by Nature. A growing list of energy companies continue to adopt the observatory’s Recommended Lighting Practices including Devon Energy, Diamondback Energy, and Midstream Energy benefiting their company, the Observatory, and Texas’ natural resources. 

    While light pollution is increasing by an estimated 9.6% annually in North America, Jeff Davis County presents a very different picture. Data revealed that the skies have become nearly 3% darker on average over the last year! 

    From Lignite Mine to Service Garden

    In 2019, NRG Energy, approached Texan by Nature with a vision to give back to the community they were a part of for 40 years, in Jewett, Texas. “Beyond our standard reclamation practices, we wanted to find a way to benefit the community over the long-term,” said Chris Moser, executive vice president of operations of NRG Energy.

    Extensive research led the TxN team to recommend using the land to alleviate food insecurity rates with a service garden to positively impact 3,000 Texans. Food-insecure areas, like Leon, Limestone, and Freestone counties often have limited access to affordable, nutritious food options. This can lead to overconsumption of unhealthy foods, contributing to health issues. This is how the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden was born.

    The 10-acre garden is equipped with accessible raised beds, and a rainwater harvesting system that provides water for native pollinator plants that were incorporated into the design to provide a habitat for butterflies and other pollinators. Fruits and vegetables harvested from the garden are donated to local food pantries to distribute to the community.
    “Most of our clients are unable to regularly buy fresh fruits and vegetables, due to the cost. Thanks to the support of NRG and Texan by Nature, the garden will be a true blessing for all of us,” says Kathleen Buchanan of The Lord’s Pantry of Leon County.

    Pollinator Habitats in the Eagle Ford Shale

    The Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas is one of the most productive shale plays in the United States. In a state where land is 95% privately owned, access to oil reserves in shales requires a “Rights of Way” (ROW) grant. ROW permits industry members to cross public or private land for the purpose of connecting projects like pipelines, communication towers and others. 

    What if, along the way, industry worked with private landowners to create a positive conservation impact on the land?  EOG Resources, Inc. (EOG) worked in partnership with landowners in the Eagle Ford Shale to restore native grassland and nectar-producing plants on pad sites and pipeline ROWs. As a result, over 175 acres of native habitat were planted through partnerships with over a dozen landowners. 

    The benefits of this project go beyond pollinators and grassland birds. This restoration is also socially and economically important for game species such as bobwhite quail and white-tailed deer.

    Blue Carbon Sequestration Research

    2019 Conservation Wrangler, RGV Reef has been combating reef loss since 2014 by deploying artificial reefing materials that act as graduated stepping stones of habitat for marine species. RGV Reef has positively impacted over 240,000 red snapper and other sea life, generating over $45 million in economic output. 

    Can artificial reefs capture carbon? This was the question posed by Enbridge, launching a potentially game-changing carbon sequestration study with Friends of RGV Reef and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV)  to explore the possibility of reducing society’s carbon footprint with their Fueling Future’s Grant.

    “The research we are conducting here will fill important gaps in our knowledge regarding carbon sequestration in the marine environment, and will be the first of its kind in Texas,” says Richard Kline, Ph.D., professor at the UTRGV’s School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences. 

    Restoring Texas Playas

    “Playas”’ is the term used to refer to shallow wetland basins typically found in the Texas High Plains. These basins are critical recharge points for the Ogallala Aquifer, playing a key role in providing clean drinking water to Texans that call this region home. The Texas Playa Conservation Initiative (TxPCI) works to bring awareness and education about these land features to landowners and locals. 

    At Texan by Nature’s 2018 Conservation Summit, TxPCI’s work caught the attention of Pioneer Natural Resources. After looking at their maps, Pioneer found they had 28 playas on their leases and committed to restoring these playa lakes. The industry’s involvement in playa restoration doesn’t stop there, in 2023 Ørsted announced a $100K investment and partnership with Playa Lakes Joint Venture to restore and preserve 500 acres of playas operating near their wind farms in West Texas as part of TxPCI.

    Conservation is good business

    Our rich natural resources, the brilliant leaders who work to conserve them, and the visionary businesses strategizing for a sustainable future are inextricably tied to each other. It will take new collaborations and deep partnerships between energy and conservation to move the needle. Our vision is for every business, every Texan to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation around the world.

    Our state’s leadership in energy production doesn’t only power the world, it presents a unique opportunity to build collaborative models to deliver an environmentally sustainable future globally.
    We believe that by engaging diverse Texans to engage in dialogue and reducing misconceptions surrounding these necessary relationships we can inspire more people to connect with nature and find ways to participate in taking care of nature.