The buzzword for Day One of the Eagle Ford Consortium’s inaugural conference: overwhelmed.
Roads are overwhelmed, and so are schools and ambulance services. Electric utilities are swamped with new customers, and city services can’t keep up.
That was the assessment of Jimmie Lopez, vice president of the Dimmit County Chamber of Commerce, who used the word “overwhelmed” liberally in referring to the drilling boom in the Eagle Ford Shale, which stretches for hundreds of miles south of San Antonio.
“The first influx of people overwhelmed the community,” Lopez said at the conference in San Antonio. “It was night and day change.”
And drilling in the shale will attract even more people – thousands more.
By 2025, it’s estimated that 8,000 rig workers will have moved to a six-county area on the western edge of the shale, according to a study released Wednesday by University of Texas at San Antonio.
The Eagle Ford Consortium billed Wednesday’s meeting as a “pre-conference” to take a look at housing challenges in the shale. The consortium is composed of community leaders, oil and gas representatives, government officials and educators who hope to gain insights and to get feedback on the rapidly developing shale play.
Housing remains one of the biggest challenges facing communities in the shale, conference speakers said.
“Dramatic growth does have a downside,” said Azza Kamal, senior lecturer at UTSA’s College of Architecture, who led the study of a six-county area in the western edge of the shale play.
Search for housing
The study found that there are more than 11,700 vacant housing units in the western part of the shale, but “some of them are shacks.” It’s possible some of the dilapidated dwellings could be rehabilitated, she said, to accommodate the additional thousands of workers.
Even then there could be shortages. The projection that 8,000 rig workers will be employed in the western shale by 2025 is seen as a conservative estimate – and it doesn’t include support workers ranging from truck drivers to restaurant employees, Kamal said.
UTSA’s study looked at Dimmit, Frio, La Salle, Maverick, Webb and Zavala counties.
The housing crisis also is affecting schools, said Deborah Dobie, superintendent of the Carrizo Springs Independent School District in Dimmit County.
The district is trying to cope with a mobile population that includes some students who don’t have permanent addresses. Some students live in RVs, and “by definition, they are homeless,” Dobie said.
Last year, the district had 85 students who were homeless. This year, the number has more than doubled to 184.
In addition, the housing shortage has caused issues with hiring.
The Carrizo Springs ISD is asking job candidates if they have friends or relatives they can live with if they’re offered a job. If they don’t have a place to stay, they’re being asked if they can handle a 50-mile commute.
“Housing problems are why some haven’t accepted a job offer,” Dobie said.
Higher property values
But there are blessings, too. The school district has a $4 million surplus because of a 118 percent increase in property values.
About 350 people attended Wednesday’s pre-conference on housing. The sold-out conference at the Omni San Antonio Hotel at the Colonnade will focus Thursday on education and economic development. Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, will deliver the keynote address.
The conference continues through Friday.