Oil and gas boom brings prosperity and problems to South Texas




Posted on October 7, 2012 at 11:06 PM

Updated Sunday, Oct 7 at 11:06 PM

Carrizo Springs, Texas

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CARRIZO SPRINGS, Texas — While many Americans are having a hard time finding work, jobs are plentiful in South Texas thanks to an oil and gas boom.

The Eagle Ford Shale has brought prosperity to small towns that have long struggled with double-digit unemployment and poverty.

"It’s just booming. It’s all the oil. They finally figured out where it was at, and now they’re getting it," said Kenneth Gottschald, a heavy equipment operator who moved from the Houston area to Carrizo Springs to work.

The massive Eagle Ford Shale is 400 miles long and about 60 miles wide, and stretches from the Texas-Mexico border to parts of East Texas.

According to the Railroad Commission of Texas, an estimated 4,293 drilling permits have been issued in the Eagle Ford Shale so far this year.

"It’s a blessing as much work as we can get," said Jose Valero, an electrician from Eagle Pass who was busy installing wiring in a new building in the tiny town of Atherton.

Valero’s skills are in high demand as small towns try to keep pace with rapid growth created by the oil boom. 

"If you’re looking for a job, this is the place to be. If you want to relocate, this is the place to be," said Diane Laplow of San Antonio, who cleans up construction sites and does maintenance work for an apartment builder in Carrizo Springs.

"My business is ‘Girls Can Do It,’ and I can do anything," Laplow said.

The shale created 48,000 jobs last year and an economic boom in South Texas.

"Which is a huge change, if you know the history of South Texas, the border area, our high unemployment rate, our poverty level," said Leodoro Martinez, chairman of the Eagle Ford Consortium.

South Texas communities created the consortium to manage explosive growth in the region and to maximize economic opportunities.

"This is a total transformation of that -- the opportunity to have success stories," said Martinez, who is the director of the Middle Rio Grande Development Council. The agency fosters economic development and workforce training for nine counties. "It was important to us that some of those jobs be made available to our people."

The Eagle Shale Consortium is tackling problems created by rapid growth in the region, including roads clogged with truck traffic, overburdened utilities, and a severe housing shortage that’s given rise to "man camps" for workers.

Hundreds of trailer homes have sprung up on the outskirts of towns to house oil workers.

"We have bunks. We have trailers. We stay 4-5 people and they furnish everything," said Mario Cantu, a diesel mechanic. "We don’t pay anything."

Oil companies pay worker expenses, and the shortage of housing has led to long lines at grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants -- to go with higher prices.

"It’s more expensive eating out, the rent," said Cecilia Cadena, a native of Carrizo Springs. Cadena owns a home, but when rents prices spiked, she said some locals moved.

"Some people were asked to move out of the places they were renting so that the oil people can come in," said Cadena, a second grade teacher.

Despite the challenges, the Eagle Ford Shale has created new economic opportunities for local residents.

Cadena’s oldest son works as a cook at a rig camp.And he just opened a new restaurant serving chicken wings and burgers to hungry oil workers in town.

It’s a family business; his younger sister also works at the restaurant.

"It’s a very good spot to start a business," Sarah Cadena said. Wings 83 is located on busy Highway 83 that cuts through Carrizo Springs.

As the work day winds down and traffic picks up outside the restaurant, the youngest Cadena brother dons a bright yellow chicken suit and waves at passing trucks carrying oil workers.

The sales tax for Dimmit County, where Carrizo Springs is located, has grown ten times in the past year.

"If you know the history of the old oil and gas industry, it’s the old boom and bust." said Martinez, who is urging towns in the Eagle Ford Shale to also plan for the long term. "My main concern is for our communities to end up looking a lot better than they were than when the first truck drove in."

E-mail akocherga@wfaa.com