Friday, August 2, 2013

Reflections on the Oil Boom

As I've mentioned before, we're in the midst of an oil boom out here. San Angelo is not really oil country; traditionally, it's economy has been based primarily on agriculture, with Angelo State University and Goodfellow Air Force Base, among others, contributing to the local economy. But we are on the edge of the Cline Shale field, and we are feeling some of the effects from that boom.

An oil boom today is much like a gold boom a century or more ago. An influx of people with no apprarent ties to an area move in to make as much money as they possibly can while the boom is good. Once the boom has run its course, they move on to the next boom. Whereas in the past, you often had tent cities pop up, today you have RV cities. Small towns to the west of San Angelo like Big Lake, McCamey, and Rankin are dealing with a population influx and inadequate housing. RV parks are popping up in all of these hamlets, often with no controls or regulations in place.

In San Angelo, we are seeing new apartments appear, not to mention new housing. New businesses are coming to town, including some that the locals are not putting out the welcome mat for. But where there is a boom, there is money to be made, and sometimes that brings in undesirable businesses. In the days of the gold booms, usually the first ones in after the miners were the gamblers, saloon keepers, and ladies of the evening. It's really not much different today, though the faces may be updated.

Personally, I've noticed a change in traffic. Driving patterns seem to be getting a bit more aggressive; vehicles are going faster, drivers are failing to yield at yield and stop signs, there is more tailgating, etc.

A few days ago, Donna and I drove to Midland. From San Angelo, we went up US 87 to Sterling City, then headed west on Highway 158 through Garden City to Midland. The two-lane stretch on Highway 158 is just over 60 miles, and it was a stressful for me. We've driven this road dozens of times over the years, and it has always been a pleasant and relaxed drive. With the oil boom in the area, though, the road is bearing more traffic than it can handle (there are plans to begin improvements later this summer). The week before we drove this stretch, a San Angelo man was killed in an accident on that highway. A few hours after we arrived in Midland, there was another wreck on that highway, but thankfully the injuries were minor.

I would estimate that 50% or more of traffic on that highway is related to the oil boom, while 25% is probably local and another 25% travelers. Actually the oil traffic is probably higher than 50%. You can recognize vehicles related to the oil industry. Most of the pickups are white, many with deer guards on the front, company insignias on the sides, and oil field equipment in the back. Many are 1 ton flat bed trucks with arc welders on back, while others may have acetylene torches and related equipment in the back. There are larger trucks hauling water, gravel, and sand as well as derrick equipment. They all seem to be in a hurry, and they all seem to be saying, "Time is money; get out of my way." Although I was driving 70, I was passed numerous times.

Well, I don't begrudge anyone the opportunity to make an honest living, and I know we need oil and gas, but I surely miss my peaceful drives. U.S. Highway 67 heading west out of San Angelo all the way to McCamey is also dominated by traffic related to the oil boom.

Once I discover these busy roads, I then do my best to avoid them. In returning from Midland, we took Interstate 20 to Big Spring, then U.S. 87 (4 lanes) to Angelo. It added 15 miles to our journey, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. Besides, when you are retired, what's an extra 15 minutes?

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