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Proposed Balmorhea Drilling Faces Scrutiny

The Law Office of C. William Smalling, P.C. Nov. 14, 2016

What Affect Will Oil Drilling Have on San Solomon Springs?

In September, Houston-based Apache Corp. announced the discovery of 15 billion barrels of oil in the Permian Basin near Balmorhea State Park. The park, a popular tourist destination, is home to a famous spring-fed pool. Based on its discovery, Apache intends to digs as many as 3,000 wells over the next 20 years.

Once the company began leasing land and testing wells, however, residents began to air their concerns that the drilling would contaminate San Salomon Springs, and threaten endangered species like the 2-inch long Comanche Springs pupfish. In light of the fact that the park attracted 160,000 visitors in 2015, there are also worries on the effect drilling poses for the tourist industry - a major employer in the region.

The community has been joined by a wide range of environmental groups that are also concerned about the effect on San Solomon. In addition to being the source of the park's crystal-blue pool, the springs supply area farmers with more than 22 million gallons of water a day. Washington-based conservation groups such as Earthworks and the Nature Conservancy, along with national advocacy groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club, are said to be monitoring the situation.

While there are also concerns about air pollution from the already dug test wells, the company said in a statement that it complies with "all applicable laws and regulations" regarding air emissions. In addition, Apache recently announced that it has agreed to study water quality in the area with University of Texas at Arlington scientists.

Not only has the company funded the study with a $136,000 grant, it has also agreed to share its proprietary chemical used for drilling oil and gas with university researchers. Moreover, researchers have retained to the right to publish their findings.

At this juncture, Apache appears to have complied with state requirements for drilling permits and acquired leases and is about to commence operations. The last recourse for those opposed to the drilling would be to appeal to a newly formed groundwater conservation district in Reeves County.

In the final analysis, the oil and gas industry is heavily regulated by the state and federal agencies, and the need for tapping these resources must be balanced with the concerns of the community. In the event of a dispute, it is essential to engage the services of an experienced health, safety and environmental attorney in Texas.