Despite Disappointing Returns, Oil Driller Pushes Ahead With Fracking Near Rare Texas Wildlands

If you ask the CEO of Apache Corp., his company made in 2016 the kind of once-in-a-lifetime find that every oil driller dreams of: a massive oil and gas field that no other company noticed, where thousands of wells could be drilled and fracked to produce massive amounts of fossil fuels — and, in theory, profits.

Indeed, Apache expects a staggering amount of oil and gas can be found in this stretch of West Texas desert: 3 billion barrels of oil; 75 trillion cubic feet of natural gas; and even more natural gas liquids like ethane and propane, which feed plastics production. And it all sits on the outer margins of the famously prolific Permian Basin, where in 2017, one out of every three barrels of shale oil in America was pumped.

Alpine High, as the company named its discovery, was in a little-drilled area near Pecos, Texas, right on the outskirts of the Permian, on land ignored by other drillers who assumed there would be little potential for big oil finds letting Apache buy up leases for a fraction of the price of nearby land.

“We are incredibly excited about the Alpine High play,” John Christmann, Apache CEO, said at the time, “and its large inventory of repeatable, high-value drilling opportunities.”

But Apache’s big oilfield dreams risk doing irreversible harm to an irreplaceable place — and, some financial analysts warn, with no clear promise of big profits. Already, there are signs the wells may not live up to Apache’s early hopes and pressure has been growing from Wall Street to stop pouring money into huge infrastructure projects based on risky assumptions.

Nonetheless, Apache seems to still be dreaming big, pressing forward with plans to drill up to 5,000 wells, each with its own toxic wastewater, gas flares, and air pollution, all in the middle of one of the most ecologically sensitive places in West Texas.

The Manufacturing Model

Part of what sets Alpine High apart is Apache’s belief that the shale there is uniformly loaded with fossil fuels — or…

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