Letter to the Editor

January 12, 2024

Dear Editor,

The freshwater aquifers and rivers of Texas are in danger — in particular the Pecos River and the aquifers underlying the Permian Basin.

I own a ranch on the Pecos River in Crockett County, and the health of the Pecos, and the underlying aquifers, is very important to me personally and should be important to all Texans, as the problems along the Pecos are not confined to West Texas.

The Friends of the Pecos is a group formed to protect the Pecos River, and I am a member. This group recently toured Schuyler Wight's ranch and much of the surrounding area near Imperial. Our tour included the huge Boehmer Lake that was formed and is continuously filled, by an unplugged and abandoned oil well that is flowing brine water to the surface from the artesian San Andres formation. For the record, this brine is a toxic mix from which no plant or animal can be watered. The land it saturates is dead forever.

We started our tour on Farm to Market (FM) 1053 where an improperly cased injection well has caused an immense sinkhole, which has in turn caused 1053 to collapse and require massive repairs. Currently, rather than continuing to try and patch the road, TxDOT is planning on rerouting the highway miles to the east.

On Schuyler's ranch, we were first taken to the Santa Rosa Spring which used to flow 1,200 gallons per minute of fresh water prior to 2017 when oil companies to the south began pumping massive amounts of fresh water for fracking horizontal wells. This massive pumping of fresh water has also dried up the seepage springs that were a major source of water for the Pecos River, causing a long segment of the river between the FM 1776 bridge and the FM 1053 bridge to be dry.

Schuyler showed us some of the 295 unplugged "orphan" wells that are on his ranch. Years ago some oil producers walked off and left these wells with the pump jacks and sucker rods and tubing in place. Since the San Andres formation in this region is artesian and very corrosive, it has caused brine water leaks in the casing that are flowing to the surface. These leaks are causing groundwater contamination that could easily migrate into the Pecos River.

Left unplugged, all of these wells have the potential to become like the out-of-control well at Boehmer Lake. Schuyler has repeatedly tried to get the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) to plug these orphan wells before they get totally out of control. Currently, there are 13 orphan wells on his ranch alone that are flowing significant volumes of brine water to the surface. To date, he has only gotten the RRC to plug one of these wells.

Also, there is a well that was drilled in 1969 in search of sulfur. It was improperly plugged and is flowing a weak stream of brackish water onto the surface. Schuyler has made this problem known to the RRC and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and has not been able to get it plugged either. It is contaminating the surface and the groundwater aquifers and could become another Boehmer Lake as well.

In addition, there are a dozen abandoned oil wells located within the Pecos River. Schuyler showed us one well in the dried-up stream bed that has a rotten casing that has the potential to break loose and start flowing

San Andres brine directly into the Pecos River.

These orphan wells must be properly plugged before they destroy the aquifers and the Pecos River. Fresh water in Texas is a precious commodity that should not be wasted either through neglect, as with these many orphan wells, or through waste, by using it to frack oil wells when produced water could realistically be recycled for fracking.

We must take better care of our aquifers. All of our lives depend on a good supply of fresh water.

Please contact your State Representatives and Senators in Austin and demand that these problems be resolved.


Luke Shipp