Apache, UT Arlington to partner on water studies around new Alpine High oil field

October 12, 2016

The University of Texas at Arlington and Apache Corp. will partner on baseline groundwater tests around Balmorhea, an environmentally sensitive West Texas oasis where Apache announced a massive oil and gas discovery last month.

University chemists and Apache will study groundwater and surface water in the new Alpine High field, a part of a the massive Permian Basin where there’s been little oil and gas activity.

Apache announced the find in September 19 test wells in the area, with nine wells producing.

The company’s acreage is centered around the desert oasis of Balmorhea State Park, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Water flows into the park from San Solomon Springs, the largest in a series of interconnected springs in the area, and home to endangered desert fishes, the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish.

Many residents are concerned about that the oil field activity could damage the artesian spring system.

“This marks an exciting opportunity for our team to collaborate with an industry partner in an area with an extremely sensitive ecology,” said Kevin Schug, a UT Arlington chemistry professor and the director of the Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation, known as the CLEAR lab.

“Through this partnership, we will be able to conduct a baseline analysis of both surface and groundwater quality in the area which will provide important data for future monitoring efforts,” Schug said.

The “Alpine High,” is centered around southwestern Reeves County. It holds an estimated 3 billion barrels of oil and 75 trillion cubic feet of rich gas, the company said, in just two of five geologic zones that are stacked on top of each other like a layer cake. Apache leased 182,000 acres in Reeves County in the second half of 2015.

State park officials initially said the drilling was not a concern, but later told the Houston Chronicle they have not conducted any research to assess the impact of oil drilling on West Texas’ Balmorhea State Park and the region’s famous artesian springs. Nor had the parks department gathered other scientific studies on the region’s aquifers until just recently.


Twitter: @Jennifer_Hiller