Activists to open oil drilling protest camp near Balmorhea

A drilling rig sits north of the Davis Mountains Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 in Balmorhea. Houston-based Apache Corporation recently announced the discovery of an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil and gas in the area and plans to drill and use hydraulic fracturing on the 350,000 acres surrounding the town. Apache has leased the mineral rights under the town and nearby state park, but has promised not to drill on or under either. While some residents worry that the drilling could affect the spring at the state park and impact tourism, others are excited for the potential economic boom the oil discovery and drilling could bring. ( Michael Ciaglo / Houston Chronicle )

Another protest camp looks to open in West Texas, making at least two in the high desert south of Midland, the state’s oil-and-gas capital.

Activists began working three weeks ago on the first, near Alpine, to protest Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ Trans-Pecos gas pipeline, which will run from the busy Permian Basin to Mexico. Protesters were arrested near there earlier this month.

The second camp is opening in Toyahvale, home to the famous spring and pool of Balmorhea State Park, to protest drilling by Houston-based Apache Corp. In September, the company announced it had discovered 15 billion barrels of oil and gas around Balmorhea, and said it could drill as many as 3,000 wells over the next two decades.

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Resident Neta Rhyne and her husband own about 400 acres there, abutting the state park, and are designating 30 acres for the new camp.

“We’re going to get Toyahvale on the map, finally,” said Rhyne. “Wish it were for better reasons.”

Rhyne said she and a few volunteers are clearing tumbleweeds off the acreage now, and getting a gate built in the property’s perimeter fence. They hauled in portable restrooms, but plan to build composting toilets, using ground tumbleweeds for composting material. They hope to light their opening camp fire on Jan. 7, she said.

Four campers have already arrived, Rhyne said, three from the pipeline protest camp near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota and one from Austin.

RELATED: Energy Transfer Partners sues to finish Dakota pipeline; Protests in U.S. cities

Rhyne said she came to Toyahvale when she had lung cancer, to get away from the city pollution, and she says she already notices the change in air quality with just a few wells drilled.

“My goal would be for Apache just to go home, go away,” she said. “I don’t know how realistic that is.”

In response, Apache said that “the safe and responsible development of natural resources” is the company’s top priority. It is, for example, working with the University of Texas at Arlington on the first independent baseline water study in the region.

“With world-class technology, best management practices and continued dialogue with the community,” spokeswoman Castlen Kennedy said in an email, “the Alpine High play will be safely developed to produce much needed domestic energy, high-quality jobs and local economic activity while protecting the land, air and water resources of the region.”