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Balmorhea
Cabins and the sparkling canal at Balmorhea State Park. Photo: JB Colorado via Flickr.

Texas parks department lied about Balmorhea springs?

FuelFix reported today that Texas state park officials did not actually conduct any research that analyzes impacts of oil drilling in West Texas’s Balmorhea State Park. With the controversy over drilling on federal lands one of the past year’s most debated oil and gas topics, it seems like a risky oversight on the part of park officials.

Three weeks ago, park officials said they had “no evidence to indicate concern” about Houston-based Apache Corp.’s plans to drill oil and gas wells on 350,000 acres surrounding the pools and canals fed by the San Solomon Springs.

Why is drilling in Balmorhea State Park such a big deal? The area is famous for its artesian springs that manage to stay close to 72 degrees, even in the hot Texas summer. Travel websites call the crystal-clear springs a “rarity,” and some in Texas are already destroyed by questionable ranching practices. At Balmorhea, the springs are part of an ecosystem that includes turtles, crustaceans and fish, some of which are unique to the springs. The site is even a frequent stop for snorklers and scuba divers, since the water is so clear. Balmorhea is also home to the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. So it’s understandable why such a site should be preserved, and drillers should proceed with caution.  Residents of Balmorhea as well as tourists say they are worried that Apache’s drilling operations could ruin the spring or contaminate the water. Or, they might just deplete the spring’s waters by using it for fracking operations, which require incredible amounts of water.

Drilling and fracking operations might even boost the town’s economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism and visits to the park.

Balmorhea State Park

A snake and a catfish in the waters of Balmorhea state park. Photo: JB Colorado via Flickr.

But Apache Corp. has argued that drilling won’t pose any threats to the springs. The company discovered a new oilfield, named Alpine High, and it’s estimated to hold more than 15 billion barrels of oil and gas. It isn’t that often there are discoveries like this. Plus, Texas Parks and Wildlife representative Stephanie Salinas said the oil wells are lower than or equal in depth to the springs, and the park should not be affected. Apache has also said that although they leased the mineral rights underneath the town and the state park, they promised not to drill underneath of either.

But even though Apache and Texas state parks folks have both promised they won’t affect the park or its springs, it doesn’t change the fact that an impact study was not conducted. The most recent information was gathered three years ago from researcher George Veni.

On Friday, the parks department said it’s collecting research and considering water testing. Now, we just have to wait and see if they do the right thing to ensure that drilling is done with the utmost care, if at all, near the springs.

If you’ve never visited Balmorhea, check out the crystal clear waters in this YouTube video posted by Darrell Young. If nothing else, the bubbling sounds of the water will soothe you to sleep!

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