The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering an application from nine oil and gas companies that would allow them to avoid liability under the Endangered Species Act for killing and harming protected bats in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia over the next 50 years. The proposal would cover not only exploration and well development through fracking, but also pipeline construction.

The little brown bat is one of several species threatened by oil and gas companies. (Photo: Ann Froschauer / USFWS)

The little brown bat is one of several species threatened by oil and gas companies. (Photo: Ann Froschauer / USFWS)

“Oil and gas companies are trying to pull a fast one here by getting a 50-year free pass to kill bats,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed comments opposing the proposal on behalf of several national and local environmental groups. “As these bat species continue to decline, more must be done to protect their habitat, yet this proposal would authorize companies to do no more than the minimum to mitigate the extremely harmful impacts of their fossil fuel extraction activities.”

The bats at issue include the endangered Indiana bat, the threatened northern long-eared bat and three species that have been proposed for Endangered Species Act protections — the little brown bat, the eastern small-footed bat and the tri-colored bat. These species have been decimated in recent years by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has spread rapidly across the eastern half of the United States, and is estimated to have killed more than 6 million bats in the Northeast and Canada.

“Bat populations are plummeting, and any additional stress or harm to these species and their habitat only exacerbates the risk that they will be lost forever,” said Ryan Talbott, attorney for Allegheny Defense Project. “It’s simply not possible to develop a plan that adequately predicts what management actions may be necessary to protect these species and their habitats over the course of 50 years of oil and gas exploitation.”

The companies have not specified where oil and gas activities and pipeline construction would occur, making it impossible to accurately estimate the harm to the imperiled bat species and the mitigation necessary to avoid cumulative impacts to them, including the effects of climate change.

“This proposal is biologically indefensible and poses significant risk of harm to bat species,” said Jen Miller, Director of the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter. “These oil and gas activities will pollute the waterways that imperiled bats rely on and exacerbate climate change, pushing these species even closer to the brink of extinction.”

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