A Forgotten Oil Well Births a 100-Foot Geyser in West Texas
In the flatness of the southern half of Crane County, where a clump of mesquite trees can count as a landmark, you can see a new hundred-foot column of salt water from five, maybe ten miles away. It shoots into the air under extraordinary pressure, as if someone had aimed a fire hydrant straight at the sky. Beginning on New Year’s Eve or in the early hours of 2022, an estimated 25,000 barrels of briny water has emerged from the earth with a dull roar each day, turning the surrounding West Texas landscape white with salt and other minerals.
On Monday of this week, one part of the mystery was solved. Researchers digging through the state archives discovered a 1,390-foot-deep dry hole that was drilled at the geyser’s location by Gulf Oil in 1948. In 1957, the well was plugged and forgotten. Gulf had once been one of the world’s dominant oil companies, but it was acquired by Chevron in 1984 in what was then the largest corporate merger ever. Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, California, therefore bore responsibility for the long-forgotten well, which is why the Railroad Commission said it turned over command of the blowout to Chevron on Tuesday. A Chevron spokesperson said in an emailed statement that “we are committed to assuming full responsibility for onsite operations, remediation and costs.”
Stopping the flow of water from the Chevron well could be complex and expensive, and may take weeks. Capping it above ground could cause an underground blowout, in which the stream of salt water carves a new path into a freshwater aquifer or other rock stratum.