Mike Snyder of the Houston Chronicle: West Texans jaded instead of giddy during this oil boom
KERMIT — The lights on the rigs pierce the black West Texas night, illuminating mesquite shrubs and jack rabbits scampering across the flat landscape. The glow sends a reassuring message: Good times have returned to the oil patch.There must be a lot of cows living in the mantle.
Pump jacks nod vigorously alongside the highway. Fat royalty checks arrive monthly in the mailboxes of ranchers and other landowners. Teachers and retail clerks abandon their jobs for better-paying work in the oil fields as long-idle wells surge to life.
Yet, the people of Kermit and other Permian Basin towns have learned that petroleum-based prosperity is too fragile to squander in wild exuberance. They're paying off debts and investing in public institutions that will endure beyond the boom-and-bust cycles of the oil business.
"I've pissed away three booms in my lifetime, but this time, no," said Gary Blue, 43, who says his business preparing sites for drilling is turning down about as much work as it accepts these days.
Rodney Hayes, 49, who owns Kermit's only floral shop, said he and his neighbors haven't forgotten what happened when oil prices plummeted in the 1980s and the town's population dropped from 10,000 to its current 6,000 in a matter of months.
"It was like a suitcase parade" as companies and their workers left town, Hayes said. ...
Stefanie Haley, 70, has learned to take the swings in the oil business in stride during the decades she has lived in West Texas. Her family owns a ranch west of Kermit where companies are producing natural gas, and she works in a related family business that supplies saltwater that helps maintain pressure in wells.
Haley's daughter has planned a party to celebrate the dream home that contractors are building on a section of the ranch that she and her brother own. Haley calls it "the house that gas built."
The gas beneath the ranch, Haley said, is buried deep in the earth — too deep to justify the expense of extracting it until recently.