NOTE­BOOK

Res­i­dents of Pe­cos won­der why they’re shak­ing all over

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BUSINESS - david.hunn@chron.com twitter.com/@david­hunn

The res­i­dents of Pe­cos are keenly aware of a re­cent phe­nom­e­non: Earth­quakes are shak­ing their beds.

Four more hit the oil and gas town of 10,000 just last week, epi­cen­ters all clus­tered down U.S. 285, the road to Fort Stock­ton.

Res­i­dents, many of whom grew up in the in­dus­try, are slow to point fingers. But some have be­gun to ask if oil and gas wastew­a­ter dis­posal wells are caus­ing the quakes. One even asked the city coun­cil to act on the mat­ter. The coun­cil has not. “We don’t know for sure what’s caus­ing them,” Pe­cos Mayor Venetta Seals said. “Ev­ery­body has a dif­fer­ent opin­ion on it.” Apache fights wells Apache Corp., pulling a tac­tic from the play­book of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, is protest­ing an­other com­pany’s ap­pli­ca­tion to in­ject oil and gas wastew­a­ter deep un­der­ground, hop­ing to pre­vent that com­pany from con­tam­i­nat­ing aquifers or caus­ing earth­quakes.

Hous­ton-based Apache has fas­tid­i­ously man­aged its own use of wa­ter — and im­age — while devel­op­ing its new West Texas play, Alpine High, over the past year.

The is­sue: As oil flows up and out of the ground, it brings with it mil­lions of gal­lons of salty wa­ter. All of that wa­ter, usu­ally laden with chem­i­cals, has to go some­where. The most com­mon prac­tice in Texas is to re-in­ject it deep un­der­ground. But many fear that such a prac­tice, when done poorly, pol­lutes ground­wa­ter or causes earth­quakes.

Apache, which it­self in­jects wastew­a­ter to dis­pose of it, doesn’t want its good name ru­ined. So the com­pany has be­gun fil­ing protests with the state to block other com­pa­nies from in­ject­ing waste into wells near Alpine High.

One of the most re­cent such let­ters, sent Aug. 15, protests an ap­pli­ca­tion sub­mit­ted by Dal­las oil and gas com­pany Primexx Op­er­at­ing Corp. Apache says Primexx’s plans could threaten wa­ter re­sources.

Primexx de­clined to com­ment. Speak­ing of shale ...

An­a­lysts ex­pect a hot mar­ket for BHP Bil­li­ton’s shale acreage.

The world’s largest min­ing com­pany had bought big into shale just six years ago, spend­ing $20 bil­lion for land in the Ea­gle Ford, Per­mian, Hay­nesville and Fayet­teville plays. Then, last week, ex­ec­u­tives un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously dropped the bomb that their as­sets weren’t mak­ing enough money and would be sold off.

But BHP’s loss may end up a gain for Texas en­ergy com­pa­nies hun­gry for more prime shale acreage.

En­ergy re­search firm Wood Macken­zie said it ex­pected sub­stan­tial in­ter­est from buy­ers. Pri­vate Eq­uity firms, U.S. in­de­pen­dent oil com­pa­nies, the ma­jors and even na­tional oil com­pa­nies will all want a seat at the ta­ble, said Jon Wein­traub, a re­search an­a­lyst at Wood Macken­zie.

Hous­ton en­ergy in­vest­ment firm Tu­dor Pick­er­ing Holt pre­dicts one buyer. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., based in The Wood­lands, owns acreage checker­boarded along­side BHP’s best land, in the Per­mian’s Delaware Basin.

“We don’t know what’s caus­ing them. Ev­ery­body has a dif­fer­ent opin­ion on it.” Pe­cos Mayor Venetta Seal, on the re­cent quakes

DAVID HUNN

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