LAREDO — San Antonio and Corpus Christi don’t sit in the Eagle Ford Shale play, but you wouldn’t know it based on the jobs numbers.
The two cities are in line to see some of the biggest jobs gains due to increasing oil and gas production in South Texas.
The shale play supported 4,290 jobs in Bexar County in last year, and that number should grow to 11,627 jobs by 2021, according to a report released Tuesday by the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Nueces County is poised to end up with the greatest number of jobs from the Eagle Ford, growing from 3,880 jobs to 18,699 — an increase of more than 380 percent.
In rural McMullen County, the 1,932 shale-supported jobs already dwarf the population, estimated at fewer than 700 in the 2010 census.
“This is clearly a once in a lifetime event we are witnessing here,” said Thomas Tunstall of UTSA, who spoke at the Eagle Ford Shale Stakeholders Summit, held Tuesday at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.
The shale drilling quickly is spinning out jobs — and that has implications for training, safety and housing — across the region.
Just more than half of the 20 counties in South Texas are expected to more than double the number of direct and indirect jobs supported by oil and gas production, including Atascosa, DeWitt, Gonzales, Jim Wells and San Patricio.
Some rural communities will add more than 10,000 positions.
Karnes County, which had a population of about 15,000 last year, is expected to have nearly 15,000 jobs supported by the Eagle Ford by 2021.
UTSA estimates the shale play supported 47,000 full-time jobs last year in a 20-county area with oil and gas production or adjacent to the drilling. By 2021, that should more than double to nearly 117,000.
Corpus Christi is expected to gain jobs both from proximity to drilling and because of its port and potential to develop terminals for the export of liquefied natural gas.
The immediate challenge for companies working in the region: finding enough workers.
Harold “J.R.” Reddish, president and CEO of Houston-based S&B Infrastructure Ltd., said there’s a shortage of workers at all levels and not enough Texas students completing high school, college and advanced degree programs.
“Honestly, we’re having a hard time finding the workers we need not only on the degreed level but on the workforce level,” Reddish said.
The industry is more technically complex and the safety and environmental requirements are greater than they were in the past, he said.
There’s a need for everyone from engineers to computer-assisted drawing operators to drivers.
On top of that, the industry is about to face a baby boomer crunch.
“We’re going to lose a large part of our technical workforce when these folks start looking for the door,” Reddish said.
Tunstall said the types of workers needed over the life of the play will change. Intense pipeline construction will give way to office, management and support jobs later.
“Right now is when most of the construction is occurring,” Tunstall said. “By the time we get to 2021, the construction activities will have shifted to maintenance and repair.”
For now, communities are struggling with roads cracking like alligator skin, heavy truck traffic and a host of social issues.
Lawmakers are trying to organize a “shale caucus” of those who represent oil and gas production areas across Texas, in hopes of getting funding from the 2013 Legislature for problem roads and other needs.
Larry Dovalina, city manager of Cotulla, said it’s taking too long to develop good truck routes.
“We’re being overrun by trucks, literally,” he said.
In Carrizo Springs ISD, the number of homeless students is on the rise because families that aren’t working in the oil field no longer can afford rent.
Superintendent Deborah Dobie said she asks potential new teachers, “How do you feel about living in Eagle Pass?” Eagle Pass is more than 40 miles from Carrizo Springs.
On the upside, there finally are jobs in a region that has suffered from a brain drain, and a chance to attract younger workers back home.
“You couldn’t get a job in South Texas. You had to leave,” said Joel Rodriguez Jr., La Salle County judge.
To fill the housing need immediately, so-called “man camps” have popped up across the shale play to house and feed up to a few hundred workers each.
Paul Carlton, director of innovation and preparedness for the Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, called for “work villages” instead for 500 to 5,000 people. Temporary structures should be used “so no one lives in a ghost town in the long range.”
Having more housing would get workers off the roads by allowing their families to move to South Texas, too.
Carlton said road damage, traffic, accidents, drunken driving, emergency room visits and workers’ compensation claims could drop by making sure people don’t work long hours and then drive hours to get home, or drive far to find something to do.
And years later if the oil-field work dries up, the temporary structures could be moved elsewhere.
Tunstall said communities ultimately could be left with better roads, medical facilities and housing. But they also have to answer the post-boom question, “Why would anybody want to live or work here?”
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