Hey all, my name is Rye and I am a professional reporter currently working out of South Texas’ Eagle Ford shale oil patch.
I moved to Midland, Texas in Aug. 2014 to take over the business reporter position at Hearst’s Midland Reporter-Telegram. As I drove east from El Paso, the landscape grew flatter, drier, and progressively more full of pump jacks. As I drove into Odessa, I was greeted by bobbing pump jacks and towering oil rigs. A gas flare reminded me of the words of H.G. Bissinger, who was told by residents that the area was “hell on earth.” It was a phrase that made many a native laugh in my time there.
But not much else made people in Midland laugh over the 13 months I lived in West Texas. In Nov. 2014, OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, announced that it would maintain production levels rather than cutting them to stem a quickening fall in oil prices. As a business reporter, I didn’t think I would have much to do with oil – but I quickly learned that in West Texas, if you’re in business, you’re in the oil business.
Real estate and apartments, both which had been the hottest in the country, stalled, sputtered, and then began collapsing. Midland/Odessa, which each had some of the highest grossing chain restaurants in the country, started to see business, and people, leave. Some businesses adapted, and muddled through; others outright failed.
By the time I left in Oct. 2015, a price rebound had been beaten down; over 40 stacked rigs sat in a yard outside of Odessa; the so-called “price bottom” was yet to be found; and empty pockets kept hitting businesses, real estate, and was starting to affect local government.
We all thought the worst was mostly behind the oil industry. Then I moved to Victoria.
Prices plummeted, and they finally hit bottom around $27 a barrel. So far oil companies have ranged from slashed budgets and shutting down some production (Pioneer in the Eagle Ford) to outright panic and bankruptcy (roughly 3 dozen as of March 2016). Through it all I have talked to the workers dealing with their first, second, fourth or fifth downturn; business owners struggling to make ends meet; city officials looking for deep budget cuts; and landowners opening empty mailboxes where once fat checks sat.
This is the land of oil, the story of the boom… and the bust.