The Nolan County Forward Planning Committee met on Friday at the Sweetwater Country Club, which brought community leaders from various fields together to discuss the impact and consequences from the incoming Cline Shale oil development.
The meeting was hosted by the Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development (SEED), in which the discussion was led by SEED’s Executive Director Ken Becker as well as board chairman Art Maberry. By learning about the incoming activity, Maberry said, people can become comfortable in moving to the area, become permanent employees in their fields and stay in the local communities.
The entities represented at the meeting were the Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital, Workforce Solutions of West Central Texas, TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation), the Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District, Bitter Creek Water Supply Corporation, Sweetwater Independent School District, Texas State Technical College West Texas, the Nolan County Foundation, City of Sweetwater, Nolan County, the City of Roscoe and the Sweetwater Police Department.
Sweetwater is attempting to learn about the local development by examining the progress in the Permian Basin, an area which has seen growth. But as different businesses related to the oil development make their way to the area, the city has no intentions to disregard the ongoing wind industry.
Becker briefly discussed the differences within each shale, from the local Cline shale and the Eagle Ford shale in southern Texas, to the Bakken shale in North Dakota and the regional Permian Basin activity. The Cline shale has been projected to bring in around 30 million barrels of oil, but even the continual activity in the Permian Basin has yet to reach that number.
One of the big questions of the Cline Shale is “When is it going to happen?” Many stories have been heard, but there is still no concrete answer.
For instance, the Eagle Ford shale began its drilling in 2005, but the first mention of the development was locally heard five years later. Nonetheless, at least around 20 oil-related companies have already made their way to Nolan County, as they work to establish their business with key employees before the boom.
Although the overall impact is still unknown, some companies in the industry are saying that the boom could be about 12 to 18 months away.
Another aspect of the development was its location. The competitive market makes Nolan County a good location, but with the local services and incentives, the county and its 70 mile radius to other cities boosts itself to be a great site for companies.
In the meantime, companies are still considering other places than Sweetwater. But, businesses are also looking at places not just where incentives abound, but where their company can establish itself in a friendly community that wants their business.
In addition, a diverse company base will be present in the area through the oil development, similar to the way various companies in the wind industry came to Sweetwater. Three man camps are also proposed to come to the area, with one groundbreaking tentatively set for this summer.
Furthermore, continual communication is necessary as the planning stages transition more into a reality, such as the present time. And as communication continues, entities must learn how to establish trust while also being able to “agree to disagree”.
One example of the adage was recently seen when the SEED board of directors opted to not help fund improvements to a portion of the city’s water/sewer lines, as they viewed the item as a repair rather than a means of economic growth. But in any situation, decisions can change and everyone must keep an open mind in various issues.
Other communication must be continual in areas such as health care and water concerns. Respectively, visits to the emergency room have increased at RPMH, while water issues continue to rise.
Some rumored expansions were also addressed, such as the establishment of a few hotels in Sweetwater. While a couple of hotels are already making plans to be part of the community, others are waiting for increased production before settling in the area.
One of the items discussed in detail was the possibility of compiling a report through the University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) — the trusted source on reports from the Eagle Ford shale — on how the Cline Shale will impact the area. Recently, it was determined that a state entity would be able to help fund the report.
In their initial report, projections from the Eagle Ford development were high but later toned down. However, final numbers showed that the real numbers were actually higher than the early projections.
Since the Cline Shale is a development of oil, funding has to be obtained in a different way — opposite to how natural gas reports can receive national funding. But with the help of the state entity, the payments from other sources will help decrease the funding amount.
The big picture of the UTSA report would be to look at the numbers presented from the Cline Shale, learn more about the development and hopefully obtain more funding. The report would also show projections and the impact from the activity.
It was noted that, while other nearby universities could conduct the report, it would be done through UTSA as they have trust not only from the industry but also at the legislative level.
In wrapping up the economic development updates, a quick recap of the Sweetwater Business Park was given. While it was obtained around eight years ago, contracts with oil and gas companies were first being sought in January 2012.
But a year later, SEED closed on all of the properties who will reside in the industrial park, which is now full. With about 150 expected employees from the businesses, their intention is to be proactive and not wait until the boom happens to take action.
As development resulting from the Cline Shale continues, Maberry concluded the update by stressing that the decisions made in the area would be from the betterment not only for Sweetwater but for the surrounding communities.
This article is the first in a four-part series detailing the April 2013 meeting of the Nolan County Forward Planning Committee and their efforts to learn about and prepare for the Cline Shale oil development.