As rain follows every drought, so does a bust follow every boom. The question no doubt in the minds of many residing between the 98th and 99th Meridians of northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas is, How long will this boom last?
You don’t have to travel too far south of Pratt to see the extensive changes being wrought upon our region by the oil exploration (aka fracking) underway. When it’s all said and done—when the oil companies pull up stakes and leave town in search of a more productive vein-- will the boom have been a blessing or a curse for 98th and 99th Meridian towns?
The current oil boom has left a definite mark upon the town where I was born and attended high school. Like all communities in the midst of a boom, housing is at a premium in Alva, Oklahoma. I have heard stories of local landlords in Alva--as well as other area oil boom towns--seizing opportunity, raising the rent, and subsequently evicting longtime tenants, who cannot afford a 300% plus increase in rent.
Alva has a large “man camp” east of town, filled with travel trailers, as well as smaller pockets around town. A man camp is a place where oilfield workers temporary reside while working in an area. I was riding with my father in a lot behind a used vehicle dealership on the west side of Alva town when we witnessed a row of travel trailers, some obviously being lived in and others for sale or rent and ready to move in. My father told me there are several other hidden “trailer parks” like this one around town.
The outlying landscape has also been transformed by the boom. The countryside is now filled with oil storage tanks, small and large, including a huge one currently under construction in a field across from my father’s home east of Alva. Newly located oilfield-type businesses now line both sides of a county road on the east side of town. The lots for these businesses have been graded and filled with gravel in many places, and most of these businesses are surrounded by chain link fences. At night, mini cities light up the horizon of Woods County, indicating the fracking process is underway, 24/7.
A few years ago, the place looked much different.
Perhaps the most troubling component of a boom mentality is the rampant greed. Everyone is making money, and many unashamedly boast of this fact. One local business owner shared a conversation he had with a local oilfield company representative. To paraphrase the conversation, the representative essentially told the business owner, Don’t cut yourself short. The oil companies are making more money then they ever have. We’ll pay, even if the price is higher than you charged us for a similar project recently. In other words, we’re greedy; you might as well join us. Local businesses in Alva, particularly food, lodging, fuel, and oilfield suppliers, have the opportunity to “cash in” right now. And many are, as the saying goes, making hay while the sun shines.
In my next blog, I’ll consider how the oil boom has impacted local residents in towns like Alva and will speculate what the 99th Meridian post-oil boom world might look like.