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Year in review: Eagle Ford shale has major impact
WILLIAM J. GIBBS JR.
Oil rig towers like this one standing tall above the landscape in Bee County are becoming a common sight throughout South Texas, as energy companies stake claim to deposits of oil and natural gas that lie deep underground in a formation known as the Eagle Ford shale.
FLORESVILLE -- Not since the Great Depression has a singular event impacted the economy of Wilson County as much as the Eagle Ford shale play and hydraulic fracturing technology.
Change has come to be the norm for South Central Texas as the shale formation and new extraction methods have brought massive influxes of revenue and increased demand on local businesses. This has caused local communities to work to grapple with the changes.
One major characteristic of the Eagle Ford boom is growth. Population growth has been substantial, as oilfield companies of all sizes are beginning to call the Wilson County area home.
Marathon Oil is one of the bigger companies making an impact on the area. These companies, and the smaller firms that service them, have contributed to a population increase that has affected everything from housing to tax rates.
The migration of workers into Wilson County made the demand for housing skyrocket. With the supply unable to keep up with the ever-increasing demand, housing prices soared and temporary housing solutions, such as hotels, motels, lodges, and recreational-vehicle (RV) parks, are springing up everywhere.
Housing was not the only concern in 2012 with regard to the Eagle Ford shale. Other issues, such as damages to local roads and the impact on area communities, took center stage as the growth was addressed throughout the year.
One local entity, the Wilson County Farm Bureau, passed a resolution to address the erosion of Wilson County roads due to the increased traffic from oil-field loads and large trucks.
The resolution would bring to oil-producing communities 25 percent of the money that would normally go to the state for its rainy-day fund from the sale or production of a barrel of oil.
Local schools have not been immune to the impact of the oil boom. Some have seen growth of close to 10 percent. Some companies, such as Dial Lubricants, have offered contributions to Wilson County school districts to help offset the attendant costs spurred by the increased student population.
Dial Lubricants offered to give the Poth Independent School District (ISD) the necessary tanks to supply fuel to district vehicles.
The population growth, along with more people conducting business in the region, has led to many communities enjoying an increase in sales-tax revenues.
Many local entities, such as Stockdale and Floresville, included the projected increase in sales-tax revenues in their budgets.
In Floresville, the hotel/motel line item in the city budget reflected a substantial expected increase in tax revenue, attributed to the Eagle Ford shale.
Stockdale has seen steady increases in sales-tax revenues since 2010, when revenues were about $8,000 per month; in 2012, April proceeds were more than $15,000.
Due to the increase in RV parks and lodges in the area, many cities have adopted ordinances to regulate businesses which, prior to the Eagle Ford boom, had not seen significant regulation.
Floresville, for example, has placed a moratorium on all special-use permits, which property owners had used to obtain permission to build RV and mobile-home parks. The moratorium is in place until such time as a comprehensive growth plan can be drafted by the Planning and Zoning Commission and adopted by the city council.
Despite the benefits of the Eagle Ford shale, the continued expansion of oil and related operations has led to communities raising concerns over environmental issues.
Residents in the Stockdale and La Vernia areas joined forces to oppose proposed waste-handling facilities, such as injection wells, related to the oil industry.
An application to increase the volume of an injection well off F.M. 539 near La Vernia drew sharp criticism from local community members, who expressed concerns over local water supplies, such as the Carrizo/Wilcox Aquifer and Cibolo Creek. The applicant, Patrick Marable of Geomeg, eventually withdrew his application, although his well continues to pump produced water into the ground at current levels.
Stockdale property owners also banded together at a November meeting with State Sen. Judith Zaffirini to fight three proposed injection well sites. Several solutions were discussed at the meeting, including a proposal for oil companies to recycle the fracturing or brine water used in hydraulic fracturing.
With 2012 in the rearview mirror and the new year promising more growth, Wilson County and area communities continue to assess the benefits and issues associated with being in the center of an oil boom.
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