The environmental activist nonprofit Earthworks released a report on Thursday reinvigorating concerns that oil and gas production around West Texas’ Balmorhea State Park could pollute the springs that feed the park’s famous swimming pool.
Balmorhea residents and park visitors have worried about drilling in the high desert since Houston’s Apache Corp. began leasing mineral rights and drilling test wells there over the past year. Environmental organizations have recently begun monitoring the situation.
Earthworks has been the most active in the small town. Two weeks ago, the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit announced it had commissioned an analysis by hydrologist Tom Myers, who works frequently with the group.
Myers’ report, released Thursday, listed several possible risks to the springs: Drilling fluids could migrate through underground pathways into the aquifer. Oil and gas could leak out of well holes. Above-ground waste water storage ponds could seep through topsoil and into waterways. Hydraulic fracturing, which pumps water into wells at high pressures to crack shale and release oil and gas, could move rock and block the aquifer. Groundwater pumping for fracking could use up water and reduce the spring’s flow.
“These risks are not quantifiable,” Myers wrote in the report, “but the probability that contamination will occur is significant.”
Myers suggested an immediate water monitoring program. Earthworks called for a moratorium on drilling permits in the area “until a complete environmental impact analysis can be done.”
“There’s too much at stake,” said Sharon Wilson, the group’s gulf region organizer.
Apache said Thursday afternoon that it will review the report “for accuracy and content.” But the company also bristled some at the tone of the release.
“It is disappointing that Earthworks and their allies continue to pursue tactics aimed at undermining the spirit of collaboration and transparency that Apache has emphasized from the beginning,” Apache spokeswoman Castlen Kennedy said in an email. “Our company has a clear track record of working with organizations across the spectrum on environmental concerns, and we see the value in fostering an open dialogue.”
Few of the report’s findings are new, and Apache has responded to many of them in the past. It is searching for other water sources for fracking, so it doesn’t have to use spring water. It can prevent leaks by carefully and fastidiously drilling and cementing wells, the company has said.
And Apache has already embarked on a groundwater monitoring study, announcing last month an “unprecedented” partnership with the University of Texas at Arlington.
Earthworks and a group of concerned Balmorhea residents have called a meeting for 3p.m. Saturday at the Balmorhea Community Center to discuss the developments and hear from four speakers, including Earthworks representatives and University of Texas hydrogeologist Jack Sharp.