The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has embarked on an environmental study to monitor the effects of oil and gas drilling on the springs that feed a famous pool at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas.
Brent Leisure, the state parks director, tells the Houston Chronicle that he could not remember ever launching a similar effort in another of the state’s 95 parks, historic sites or natural areas. Parks biologists, hydrologists, geologists and administrators have mounted an in-depth, multi-year effort to monitor plants, fish, insects and water.
“We have a rare and endangered resource there at the San Solomon Springs,” Leisure said. “There’s no doubt about it. It’s an oasis. We just want to make sure it’s protected.”
In addition to feeding the park’s swimming pool, the springs also provide drinking water for thousands of people and support one of the most sensitive ecologies in Texas.
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Apache Corp. of Houston said in September that it had discovered more than 15 billion barrels of oil and gas in a far southern section of the Permian Basin. It plans to drill as many as 3,000 wells over the next 20 years. Apache has promised to keep drilling out of the park and the city of Balmorhea.
The San Solomon Springs, among others, support more than a dozen rare, threatened or endangered species. Without the aquifers, migratory fish and birds could not survive in their current numbers.
Water flow at the San Solomon has already begun dropping, likely due to farm, ranch and town use. Scientists say rainwater has a limited ability to refill area aquifers, and worry any more demand could dry up the springs.
Apache said it is drilling saltwater wells to avoid the use of freshwater in hydraulic fracturing. The company added that it plans, eventually, to recycle and reuse the millions of gallons of water that come up the well with oil and gas, which would reduce its need to drill for groundwater.
Kevin Schug, a chemist at UTA who has been involved in other studies involving hydraulic fracturing and pollution, will conduct baseline studies of ground and surface water quality in the geologically complex Alpine High resource play. By working directly with Apache as their operations grow, the university will be able to track more precisely what is happening to water quality, and help find ways to correct problems.
Schug described the partnership as an “exciting opportunity” to work with an industry partner that is drilling in an area with what he called an “extremely sensitive ecology.”
“Apache understands the challenge of operating in water-scarce regions,” spokesman Joe Brettell said.
Staff writer Max B. Baker contributed to this report.