Boom times have a lot of unwanted side effects for residents of small towns.
Alva, Oklahoma is a much busier place than it used to be. Motor vehicle traffic has increased considerably since the boom took hold. Just trying turning east onto Highway 64 where it intersects with US Highway 281, and you’ll have plenty of time to sit and count the pickup and tank trucks with company logos rolling by.
The increased oil boom traffic poses an added risk for travelers in the region. Last spring, I was headed west toward Coldwater on Highway 160 when an oil tanker topped a hill in the middle of the highway, swerving over just before it reached me. Everyone likely has experienced being tailgated by a tank truck. As I understand, drivers are paid by the load, and time is money, so keep that in mind while you’re traveling the highways and byways of oil boom country.
Besides increased traffic, local residents in places like Alva contend with longer check out lines at Wal Mart and increased crowds at local restaurants. That’s a good problem for business, which hopefully will all survive once the oil business fades.
I don’t know if it’s directly attributable to the oil boom, but the price of gasoline in Alva over the past few years has consistently been 10-30 cents higher than it is in Pratt. Before the oil boom, the price there was lower then it is here.
Another impact upon local residents in these boom times has been an increase in the crime rate. It seems like almost every time I visit family in Alva I hear about the latest break in at a local business. But that’s not all that’s disappearing. A year or so ago I recall a story about a new pick up truck that was stolen from a farm in broad daylight while the owners were inside of a home nearby. At least once a week, it seems, Alva’s Newsgram runs at least one article about domestic violence or a drug-related arrest.
What will Alva and other communities look like once the oil boom leaves town? There will probably be a lot of empty lots, particularly where oilfield-related businesses once stood. Some local businesses may close their doors or at least reduce hours of operation, due to customers tapering off. Hopefully, the water supply won’t be compromised by the fracking currently underway in the area. The oil industry claims that there is no danger to the subsurface water supply by fracking, which uses a high-pressurized water mixed with chemicals and sand to break apart rocks to get to oil previously inaccessible. Likewise, the Grand Canyon was formed by “just a little water.” As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on how fracking may impact the water supply.
Overall, it’s difficult to say whether the boom will leave a positive or negative impact for longtime residents of small oil boom towns near the 99th Meridian. Hopefully, those displaced by higher rent prices will be able to find affordable housing once the bust happens.
I’ll simply close with this bit of advice for plains towns like Alva: now is the time to invest in the infrastructure—while the money is still flowing—or at least it is time to set aside funds to invest in the community once the company-logoed trucks leave town. Alva’s city streets would be a great place to start. In most parts of town, little has been done to improve residential streets since I attended high school there in the early 1980s.
Hopefully, towns like Alva will not go bust without benefiting in some way its established residents, most of whom don’t profit from the increased local cash flow but simply have to contend daily with the side effects of living in a boom town.