West Texas oil boom creating severe housing crunch, other growing pains in Midland

February 21, 2013 4:50:20 PM PST
An oil boom in West Texas is creating a real housing crunch because the economy has people moving there to get to work.

Statistics show Texas has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, and more people are moving to the state. Midland is experiencing a big oil boom. According to government numbers, Midland, which has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, reported just 3.1 percent unemployment in December because it's experiencing a big oil boom. But that's coming with its own set of challenges.

In West Texas, where pump jacks dot the landscape, help wanted signs are nearly as common. But jobs in the service industry don't pay nearly what is offered in the oil field.

"The difficulty is not only retention, it's also getting good, qualified employees because the worst thing you can have is your brand standards lowered," said Jose Cuevas with JumBurrito restaurant.

Many people are changing careers to get a piece of the oil boom but they're finding it hard to find a place to stay.

Brian Murphy quit his office job in Oklahoma City to take a higher-paying one in the oil fields there. He's like hundreds, if not thousands, of oil field workers living in RV parks.

"I didn't think it was that bad till I got here," Murphy said.

By bad, Murphy means having to pay $400 a month for the right just to park the trailer where he can have access to water and sewer. Still, that's better than scrambling for other housing.

"It was definitely difficult. It took time, patience," homeowner W.D. Lewis said.

Lewis moved his family from the Dallas area to Midland when he accepted a job in the oil industry. The supply of homes is so tight, they lived with his in-laws for three months.

"You had to act really quickly to find exactly what you wanted," Lewis said.

Vacant apartments are virtually non-existent. Rent prices running almost three times more than just three years ago. Hotel vacancies are also rare.

The housing shortage is a direct result of a new oil boom in the Permian Basin. New drilling technologies, like fracking, have helped squeeze oil from reserves which previously were inaccessible.

"The wells we're drilling now -- we just don't hit dry holes," Faskin Oil & Ranch drilling manager Tommy Taylor said.

Faskin Oil & Ranch is diversifying its portfolio, not only pumping out oil here but taking advantage of the demand for housing, too. The company has plans to build out 1,100 acres nearby with homes and apartments.

Demand is so great that the average price of homes has increased dramatically. In the fall of 2009, the average price of a home in Midland County was just under $180,000. Three years later, it's more than $235,000.

Oil jobs have increased the population by more than 20 percent. And with that, there are more traffic, more traffic accidents and the need to build more schools.

All this additional drilling, all these additional people, have been an incredible additional strain to the area's water supply. Steps are underway now to pipe in more water and make more efficient use of what's in the aquifers.

"It's one of those balancing acts, those catch-22s that we find ourselves in today," Midland Mayor Wes Perry said.

Experts expect the boom to continue for decades, as long as the price of oil remains high. They warn, though, that with every boom eventually comes a bust.

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