The Big Bend Region of Texas is truly the last frontier.
For many, that statement evokes the final unbroken landscape in Texas: a home to rare plants and animals, cherished vistas, dark skies, pristine range-land, and even spring-fed pools in the middle of a desert. For a few, it is simply an extension of the Permian Basin – a place to make a handsome profit regardless of the impact on the land, water, people, and culture of the Big Bend.
The Trans-Pecos Pipeline now provides the mid-stream capacity that makes it possible to frac southern Reeves county near Balmorhea State Park and export the natural gas to overseas markets. The “Alpine High” is the largest of these fracking plays, but forms merely a part of the >700,000 acres of oil and gas leases south of I-10. This development promises to irrevocably change a corner of the world that has remained largely untouched by this type of industrialization.
But at what cost?
It can take up to 10 million gallons of water to frac just one well. Most of that water will become too contaminated for reuse and will disappear forever down deep-injection disposal wells.
The “Alpine High” alone is slated to bring thousands of wells to the region surrounding Balmorhea State Park in southern Reeves County, an area that receives less than 14 inches of rain per year.
Southern Reeves County is the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert, the most arid landscape in Texas.
If the Alpine High were able to produce its Estimated Ultimate Recovery (EUR) of 3 billion barrels, taking every drop of fuel from the formation, it would only supply global energy needs for 31 days.
Is this worth the potential negative impacts on:
- Balmorhea State Park, Texas’ most visited state park?
- The habitat of thousands of animals and plants that live nowhere else on earth?
- The most cherished desert oasis in Texas?
- The water supply of 50,000 people?
While oil and gas have long been an economic driver for Texas, recreational tourism and ranching have provided a stable economy that works together with the natural and cultural resources of Far West Texas. The short-term benefits realized by the extraction of shale-gas pale in comparison to the beauty, economy, natural resources, and culture of the Big Bend that could be lost.