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Oil boom produces opportunity, challenges for small towns

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There is a major oil and gas boom in several counties to the east and south of Austin. The benefits of the oil money are providing new opportunities in the region but there are also new problems for local governments.

The Eagle Ford Shale Region runs from East-Central Texas to the Southwest corner of the state. Its 50 miles wide, 400 miles long and filled with major oil and gas deposits. New fracking technology has made it possible to pump the oil and gas out of thick shale. Production from the Eagle Ford and other locations in the state now rival the OPEC nations, according to an analysis by a top official with Conoco-Phillips.

Working the Eagle Ford oil patch comes with the promise of a big pay check and with drilling platforms popping up across Texas ranch land, there is a lot of money and opportunity to be had. It's why Myra Vasquez and her husband sold their home in Houston and move into a small RV trailer near Gonzales with their kids and dog Nacho. Sometimes there are mornings, Myra says, she has second thoughts.

“Yes definitely, we miss home.

Myra admits it can get a little cramped, but comfort wasn’t a big part in deciding to follow her husband into the Texas Oil Patch.

“The money is good ... but mostly its staying together that is most important,” said Myra Vasquez.

Oil field workers are living in RV and makeshift camps that are located throughout the Texas Oil Patch. New subdivisions and apartments are coming but the demand, for what’s already here, is driving up costs.

“I feel for some people who have to rent or leave their homes cause the rent goes up so high, some people's renting for $400 to $500 now they are up to 41200 to $1500 that’s a lot,” said local resident Janice Lampkin.

Hotels and motels are providing some short-term housing. But as quickly as they are built- the rooms are filled with oil workers. Two were recently built by Ruth Guerra, who says they are a good investment even if the Oil Boom ends.

“We still needed hotel rooms here in Gonzales, so it’s a good thing,” said Guerra

The growth is also putting added pressure on school districts but just like the housing issue—government leaders don’t want to over build and get stuck with a lot of debt and empty classrooms if and when the bust happens.

The evening horizon glows from the more than 5,000 drilling and pumping operations in the Eagle Ford, and more are coming. You can even see the lights from space; they rival those from Houston, San Antonio and Austin. In the daylight something else can be seen—Asphalt, pulverized by big rig wheels. Miles of roadways have been crushed, cracked and turned into giant potholes. TxDOT and county crews, according to spokesperson Veronica Beyer, are trying to keep the roads passable through a new cost-sharing deal.

“The first county we're partnering with is LaSalle Co, they are purchasing the materials were paying for the labor doing the labor and they are going to take over the maintenance the next 5 years and that’s the time we think we'll see the increase in traffic die down,” said Beyer.

Until more agreements are made a lot of roads will remain gravel.

The hope is better roads, along with a driver safety campaign, will take some of the pressure off of emergency responders. Last year there were 3,430 serious injury wrecks in the Eagle Ford region.

While the oil and gas industry is putting more people on the roads, local businesses are having a hard time keeping their employees.

"Somebody said the Dairy Queen or McDonald's in Three Rivers is paying $16 an hour, that’s a lot of money,” said Gonzales City Manage Allen Barnes.

Competition with the oil patch is tough. Some local kids, according to Barnes, are going to junior college learning to weld and making $100,000 a year.

"There is an incentive to go to the oil fields, the wages there are insane."

Having a chance at getting a good paying job is also giving local kids an option they haven’t had for a while.

“I'm happy it’s here seems like there's a lot of opportunity around here now,” said High School Junior Seth Bzozowski.

Opportunities and challenges that will remain as long as the work in the Texas oil patch continues.

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