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The quarterly luncheon of the Cline Shale Alliance was held on Friday at the Nolan County Coliseum.
The organization brings together regional leaders, industry, business, institutions and political subdivisions in the production and support of counties in the Cline Shale oil and gas region of West Texas. Attendees came from a variety of places, including Sweetwater, Abilene and surrounding communities, extending as far west as Midland and Odessa, and as far south as Austin and San Antonio.
Opening remarks were given by Sweetwater Mayor Greg Wortham, who noted that while many people speak of the development as a past occurrence or as something that didn't quite flourish, the activity is happening and ongoing. Its awareness and outreach extends beyond West Texas and is actually a global concern.
A presentation was heard by Ken Becker, the executive director of the Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development (SEED), on a recent fact-finding excursion to North Dakota. Four cities were toured in three days--Bismarck, Dickinson, Watford City, and Williston.
In speaking with city officials and law enforcement, when asked what they would do if they could work on planning, the North Dakota cities shared that they would work on zoning. The town of Williston had 9,600 man camp beds, which should only be a short-term solution to housing.
Many workers in the oil industry are paid well, and would also receive a per diem rate. However, many companies were starting to cut the rate, as many workers--after three years--still had not made a decision on whether they would move to the area or not.
Population is also dramatically impacted, as the population in Watford City was at 1,700 in 2006. Last year, the actual total was unknown but stood anywhere from 6,500 to 10,000 people.
As a result, education was impacted in that grade levels that had 12 students grew to have almost 120 students. Districts then had to determine how to build future campuses--whether it would be built to hold the current amount, for future growth, or for the amount they believed would remain in the instance that drilling stopped and people would inevitably leave.
Additionally within construction, one county courthouse in North Dakota opted to undergo a remodeling project at $600 per square foot due to the isolation of the area along with the necessity of the project. Recently in Sweetwater, projects were seeing bids around $200 to $250 per square foot, which was considered in the high end and not accepted.
In touring the man camps up north, some facilities were good, while others were not. One establishment included several RVs that were parked inside a building and even housed families. When the school bus would come by, around 45 students would be picked up.
Law enforcement noted that petty theft decreased, due to the fact that many people had jobs. However, much larger thefts were occurring such as the theft of $50,000 drill bits or thousands of dollars' worth of equipment being stolen.
Furthermore, the northern cities have dealt with horrific vehicle accidents, some of which led to fatalities. In some instances, the accidents became too much for first responders to deal with.
Also in North Dakota, they had no organized business parks, which led to the poor development and placement of businesses. Sweetwater saw its industrial park fill up in a short time frame after waiting several years for businesses to establish themselves in the area, and is currently looking at buying more land to be pro-active in the city's growth.
Residential concerns were also seen in North Dakota, as a double-wide modular home on a gravel road with no curbs or gutters would be around the starting price of $199,500. And because cities and counties were struggling with competitive pay rates, they would reserve rooms and apartments for their new hires.
Becker concluded by stating the the trip was very eye-opening, but it also proved that West Texas is much better prepared for the growth. While West Texas continues to learn from North Dakota and also the Eagle Ford shale in East Texas on what to do differently and how to be better prepared--in regards to companies, zoning, or roads, the hope is that one day in the future, other areas can use West Texas as a means to learn and prepare for their own development.
This article is the first in a three-part series recapping the January 2014 meeting of the Cline Shale Alliance. The organization serves as an information exchange, regional development and business networking forum through the organization and coordination of periodic luncheons and workshops throughout the Cline Shale region.