Eagle Ford Shale causing boomtown today, sin city tomorrow?


CARRIZO SPRINGS — In the year since the Eagle Ford Shale boom burst upon South Texas — bringing hordes of oil field workers, convoys of heavy equipment and a tidal wave of investment money — small town life has turned topsy-turvy.

Here and elsewhere, traffic has become unbearable, restaurants are impossibly crowded, grocery stores regularly run out of meat and beer, electrical brownouts come and go, and prices for everything have skyrocketed.

“The whole world is changing here. This little community was deader than hell, but now that we have all these people coming in, we’re changing, things are happening,” said Eloy Rodriguez, the Dimmit County code compliance officer.

A quiet community of 5,700 residents tucked away in the brush country about two hours southwest of San Antonio, Carrizo Springs was completely unprepared for the dramatic economic and social changes now buffeting it.

Much of it is welcome. But while the county tax base and sales tax revenue are both doubling, and there are oil field jobs aplenty, the flip side is seen in the $1,200 two-bedroom rental house that a year ago went for $250, causing some locals to be shoved out.

And, as everyone learned this summer, there can be an unsavory side to an oil boom.

Shock waves followed the news that out-of-town strip club operators wanted to bring their neon fleshpots to the county. Rumors followed that other forms of big city vice and wickedness already had arrived.

“The majority of citizens are offended and aghast that we now have to deal with this problem, when never before did we even consider it,” Pastor Pete Perez of the Grace of God Community Church said of the strip clubs.

Deborah Dobie, the superintendent of schools, agreed.

“I wish we had something besides a strip joint coming to town, like a YMCA or a movie theater. We need some entertainment for families,” she groaned.

And with a brand new club called “Barebacks,” operating down the road in Encinal — about 55 miles as the errant husband roams — what once seemed like an absurd impossibility suddenly was a real threat.

Much prayer, protest and angst followed the news. And when the Dimmit County commissioners met in June, almost 50 people came to voice their concerns and 400 signed a petition opposing the strip clubs.

But, as they quickly learned, it wasn’t just a matter of saying no thanks.

“We were shocked when we learned we couldn’t stop them from coming and opening up, it being a first amendment, free speech issue, and all,” Perez said. “You never really give this situation a thought until it’s in your face.”

In response, the county formed a committee, which included Perez, that quickly drafted a “sexually oriented business” ordinance that may be the strictest in the state.

Approved two weeks ago, it regulates everything from the number of security guards required on the premises to the kind of drinking containers allowed.

It prohibits smoking, gambling and garbage burning, and lays out in graphic detail what legally constitutes “specified sexual activities,” a section not recommended for the weak of heart or those unversed in human anatomy.

“Understanding that we could not exclude them, we tried to impose as many regulations as we could,” said Commissioner Mike Uriegas, who oversaw the committee.

And so far, no further inquiries have come from strip club operators. But as the members of the ordinance committee learned along the way, other threats to the morals and family values, they said, may already be lurking in Dimmit County.

“We have experienced prostitution already in town. There are vans that come in and pick up the guys. We see out-of-town people, girls who we know are not from here, and that’s what they are doing,” said Irma de Luna, a local schoolteacher.

Sheriff Joel Gonzalez confirmed that complaints about prostitution have been received from managers of motels and operators of some of the many RV parks that sprang up overnight around the county.

Last week, the local paper led with the story of a woman recently convicted.

“I’m pretty sure this is the first prostitution case ever made in Dimmit County,” said the sheriff, who made the arrest himself.

“It was out there near one of the many camps, close to Asherton. We had intelligence she was going door to door. I went out in my personal vehicle and she offered to do sexual favors for money,” he said.

And, he said, more cases may follow.

Rodriguez, the code enforcement officer, said women soliciting oil field workers have visited the trailer park he owns.

“It’s happening at all the RV parks but no one wants to talk about it. And the rumor is, it’s happening at every hotel in town,” he said.

An employee at one of the motels confirmed unwanted late-night visitations by women.

Carrizo Springs Mayor Ralph Salinas said the city soon may craft its own strip club regulations.

“Out in the country, I guess, you could have a private club, but in the city they should definitely be out. It’s the type of thing we don’t need,” he said.

To get an idea of what could happen, Dimmit County leaders need only look down U.S. 83 to Encinal, (pop. 600), long little more than a minor traffic stop on Interstate 35. But Encinal now is booming with activity and new development, and the city recently created its own police force to deal with the growing impact of the oil boom.

“We’ve got 500 mobile homes coming in, a four-story hotel and a motel and an IBC Bank,” Mayor Sylvano Sanchez said,, adding that beyond that, the Love’s truck stop is expanding and there are plans to build bio diesel plants.

The strip club “Barebacks,” which opened in January, hasn’t caused any problems and seems to be struggling for business, according to the mayor.

“Right now, they are converting their strip club to do catering for the oil boom. It’s still a club at night, but they cater during the day,” he said, adding that few people in town seem bothered by the club.

“It’s expensive just to go in there. There’s a $10 door charge and $5 for a beer. People from Encinal don’t want to pay that money. It would leave you broke. They’d rather drink at their house,” he said.

On a Thursday evening visit to “Barebacks,” a windowless metal building set between a truck stop and a prison just off I-35, about a dozen oil field workers quietly drank beer in the general company of six lightly clad young women.

The club is decorated in a hunting motif, with mounted deer heads, camouflage-print wall covering and a faux deer blind. While the women periodically danced on a small stage, several customers watched an “Animal Planet” show about giant snakes on the bar televisions.

“The only reason we opened this club is that it’s a man’s world down here, oil field workers and hunters, and there are no women,” said owner Beca Howard of Laredo, who scoffed at the notion that her club could bother anyone.

“Do you really think this looks like a hoo-rah? It’s a very decent mom-and-pop operation. The girls who work here are going to college,” she said, adding, “I’m not about to have a vulgar place. My mother would rise from the dead.”

She said that serving meals to oil field workers is keeping the place afloat, and early Thursday night, the club seemed tame and almost lifeless.

With its utility carpeting and plain, dark furniture, the place felt more like a rec center for adults than a simmering den of sin and iniquity, suggesting that a regional moral collapse may not be imminent.

One regular customer, Mark Vavrusa, 51, a pipeline surveyor from Michigan who expects to spend two years in South Texas, observed: “Last Saturday we were in here. Tons of gorgeous young women. No guys here. What is that?”

He added, “I’ve been to a lot of clubs. I’ve dated strippers and escorts. This is a great club but I don’t know why there aren’t more men. There are so many pipe-liners down here. I can’t believe this place is not full.”

25 Responses

  1. Greg says:

    oh pipelines…i was also a pipeline surveyor for a time. in fact i worked in both carrizo and encinal at the beginning of the boom.
    yes, to some people’s defense there are hard-working, family man-type people working on pipelines. but there are also a lot of people that could only be describe as pipeline trash, ie. hicks that love to get drunk and laid with women.
    when i was first in carrizo the heb closed at 8, the wal-mart at 10, and there was no laundry-mat. it was booming when i left. pipelines will ravage a town, but there was plenty of shady stuff going on down there before the oilfield, it is right by the border.
    if anything the oilfields will offer jobs to the people down there.

  2. Robert says:

    I see AustinCoog got tired of trolling ECCIE and changed venues. Kudos to you, sir.

  3. Robert says:

    This isn’t an article about Houston or a region anywhere near Houston, so what relevance does your comment have? It’s a total non-sequitur.

  4. TransAmer99 says:

    Please don’t tell Mother I’m workin’ in the oilpatch – she still thinks I’m the piano player in a w40r3house!

  5. WR2 says:

    Sorry, but this article is hilarious. I’d loved to have been in the council meeting when they discussed ‘anatomy’ and ‘specified activities’. That Sheriff sounds like he really enjoys his job and if you see his personal vehicle in a trailer park its because he’s on the job, lol. And Mark Vavrusa will forever live on the Internet as ‘dating’ an escort. If I hire a plumber to install a faucet does that mean we’re dating?

  6. db64 says:

    Under Obama care, women will get free birth control, well-woman visits and a host of other freebies, and one day free abortions will be included.

    Men get nothing under Obama. Free strippers should be part of Obamacare, along with STD screening and treatment.

  7. Native Houstonian says:

    Hey XANE,
    What does white trash have to do with getting drunk and getting laid?

    Who the hell would NOT want to get drunk and get laid? I keep trying to get my wife drunk all the time so I can get laid. That’s just being smart.

    Now white trash people are stupid because they will do anybody, anywhere, anytime, and spread all sorts of diseases without giving it a second thought. Problem is, they populate the gene pool with more stupidity, and a burden on the welfare system.

    People complain about the illegals, we should be complaining about the lazy SOB’s that are here taking advantage of the system. I’ve only known hard working illegals. I say, we give the hard working illegals immediate citizenship, and ship the lazy legal SOB’s over to Mexico. I think our welfare system would be all but unused.

  8. purple says:

    Xane….you obviously know nothing. And this article is a bit confusing… truth is oilfield and pipeline are totally different animals…you have all kinds in both fields…but either way…I will put my bank account and priorities up against yours any day.

    BlueJayWay….. nothing wrong with that at all…unless you are married and your wife doesn’t know…if she knows and is good with it…then ok….but I wasn’t good with it….YUCK!

  9. angela says:

    So this club owner thinks her mom would feel better knowing that college girls are taking off all their clothese for some mere dollars. oh ok lady, thanks for the clarification.

  10. Waves says:

    “We were shocked when we learned we couldn’t stop them from coming and opening up, it being a first amendment, free speech issue, and all,” Perez said. “You never really give this situation a thought until it’s in your face.”

    What part of free do these people not understand? While strip clubs are not my thing, they have every right to open up in any and every city they want to be in – the morality police need to keep there overly zealous religious beliefs to themselves and let people entertain themselves as they choose – it’s not there damn business to police where anyone chooses to entertain themselves –

  11. saone says:

    xane – lots of people work in the oilfield to make a good living for their families. They are not all white trash garbage. Why are you putting down these people who work hard – probably harder than you? IMO anyone who works for a living instead of waiting for a handout is not trash.

  12. nspector says:

    Mr Bowers is an example of what is wrong in this state. He assumes everyone with a latin last name is illegal on food stamps and not paying taxes. Sounds like he needs to get out of the house and turn off that AM radio!

  13. John says:

    The headline should be changed to “21st Century Hits Hard in Mayberry!”

  14. El Capitan says:

    LOL!!! This is HILARIOUS!! Thanks for the piece, Chronicle! Of course, it is not near as good as reading the reader responses…now they are really funny, especially the ones from the so-called moralists! My deer camp is down that way – we’ll check it out the next time we’re down there. Nothing like seeing progress in rural Texas.

  15. AustinCoog says:

    Frank Bowers, FIC, the fact that you managed to turn a story of strip clubs in south Texas into a rant about illegal aliens displays a rather hateful quality in you. You are 73, and never been to a strip club. Maybe thats your problem, if you would go, you would see, life is not that bad, and it is short, and to spend it in statehatred and vile energy, seems to me a waste of time and a waste of your life, which probably (apparently) has not amounted to much anyways.

  16. BlueJayWay says:

    Every man needs companionship and polite company from a nice friendly woman – even if she visits unexpectedly – unannounced – for a small fee.
    Is that sooooo wrong?

  17. xane says:

    so who do you think works in the oil field > yep. white trash garbage.

    and what do you think they like to do when they get off work ? yep. get drunk and get laid.

    Houston is full of vice and strippers. and they follow the money and idiots. known one little stripper who hooked a dumb but rich aggie with cocaina and snatch. happens everyday.

    nothing is free.

  18. purple says:

    LOL Frank…I use to be that naive too…not MY husband.

    My now EX husband…who is one of my best friends and still very much part of the family…works the same schedule actually longer hours…in the same industry as your sons…except he is in a position to know all the dirt. Yes your boys MAY be two of the rare few that don’t indulge…lol..but there is a LOT of them that do. Like the article says…the girls make house calls. Trust me…I have seen it with my own eyes. I was surprised at who did and did not.

    Word of advice guys….never leave a hooker your phone # thinking you are safe…on the offhand chance she calls while your wife is visiting. ;-)

  19. SUX_2BU says:

    Another example of how religion will kill capitalism if given the opportunity to manipulate the law to do so. Instead of SOB laws, we need to craft ROB laws (religiously-oriented businesses) which force these ROB-bers to pay their fair share of taxes, not open anywhere near a school or liquor store, and pay into a sexual abuse fund at the state level for all the victims of religious sexual abuse. Also, in church, no preacher can be allowed within three feet of a child.

  20. purple says:

    Two of the oldest professions….they have always fit together like peas in a pod.

  21. Frank Bowers, FIC. Austin, TX 100% DAV, FIC says:

    Advise Mark Vavusa, these men like my son in law and grand son work from 7 AM until 7:30 PM and when they get home after a one hour drive each way, to the RV, take a shower and eat realize it is pretty late and go to bed and preparing for the next day in the heat.
    Their disadvantage is they must work and those boys down there living off food stamps must sell their food stamps to go to the club and they are the only one not to tired to attend such raunchy places as this.
    Yes lots of money just too tired and too many hours in the sun and heat all day 6 days a week to go out at night. My son in law who is 42 and my grand son who is 21 tell me they come home from work and prepare for the next day with only Sundays off.

    Frank Bowers, FIC, 100% DAV, Austin, TX

  22. Frank Bowers, FIC. Austin, TX 100% DAV, FIC says:

    How sad, the illegal are complaining about the cost of a beer, while not worrying about the cost of groceries. One realizes the American tax payers are paying for their food with food stamps.
    I noticed all the names except one was of the mexican/hispanic heritage. Don’t they know now what the rest of of are enduring.
    As for as the BAR AND STRIP CLUBS, If one does not care to attend then the 10 dollars entry fee is no problem, the 5 dollar beer is no problem just stay out and let the citizens who wish to go, go. At 73 I am living proof no one has ever twisted my arm and made me go and I have never been to one.
    Good side of this is perhaps it will force some of the illegal aliens to go back home. The bad side is I bet they are a lot of the illegals out there doing the jobs that should go to the citizens.
    Tell this pastor perez to go to mexico and see how thing are done for his people. We don’t care how he feels as those business are paying tax something he and HIS ILLEGAL ALIEN MEMBERS DON’T DO THEY ALL LIVE OFF THE STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SUCKING THE T ITS OF THE TAX PAYERS.
    BTW, my son in law and grand son (BOTH FROM GEORGETOWN, TX) are both down there working. They are digging ditches and have fun. It is hot work and they are willing to do this so the illegals will not be taking their jobs as their boss will not hire ILLEGAL ALIENS, PERIOD.
    Frank Bowers, FIC, 100% DAV, Austin, TX

  23. Dan says:

    “Understanding that we could not exclude them, we tried to impose as many regulations as we could,” said Commissioner Mike Uriegas. Some regulations on private businesses are WELCOMED by social conservatives!

  24. FMS says:

    “show about giant snakes…”

    What a line to use in a story about a strip joint and prostitution ! I couldn’t stop laughing…

  25. Peeper says:

    Houston is the strip club capital of the USA