Will Partnership Between Oil Company and Scientists Help Protect Balmorhea?

It’s the first-ever partnership like this in Texas.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 14, 2016 1:58 pm

What makes Balmorhea in west Texas so surreal is a combination of the unspoiled desert landscape, the crisp unusually blue air and – springing up in the middle of that beautiful emptiness – a 1.75-acre concrete and cement pool built at the height of the Great Depression. It’s the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. The San Solomon Springs gush 15 million gallons of water through it each day, and the pool is always somewhere between 72 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s truly a gem and surprisingly not as well known as it should be – which is probably a good thing. But last month, a sense of foreboding swept over the Balmorhea community when a Texas oil company announced a major finding: a massive oil and gas discovery around the area – 3 billion barrels of oil and 75 trillion cubic ft. of gas.

Now the company, Apache Corporation, has leased what amounts to 20 percent of Reeves County, anticipating up to 3,000 future drilling sites. The project sounds ominous, which is why this week’s news of a new partnership has some feeling more optimistic. Apache says it will team up with the University of Texas at Arlington to study the entire drilling process, as well as the chemicals used in extraction. There will be the opportunity to do baseline tests before any drilling starts. Experts say it’s unprecedented.

Jennifer Hiller wrote about the partnership for the San Antonio Express-News. She says the fact that Balmorhea is such a scenic and environmentally sensitive area drove the project. It’s also a good public relations move for Apache.

“They’re already known in the Permian Basin for really pushing things like water recycling very publicly, in a way that other oil companies haven’t done,” Hiller says. “So they have a little bit of a precedent in this area.”

And the partnership is a good first step to protecting the area, Hiller says. But it’s also a risk for Apache. With this partnership, the company will have to stay open and transparent about the process and allow the university to work independently.

“It would be the start of something larger,” Hiller says. “Hopefully this is a good experience for the folks on the university side and the people at Apache that other companies may be willing to step forward.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.