Home on the Shales


This drilling platform on the Eagle Ford Shales in southeast Texas drew workers and machinery to a rural area. Photo: Marathon Oil

Greg Wortham is the Mayor of Sweetwater, Texas, and he can't talk fast enough to explain how good the Cline Shale is for his rural community.

"We've got two hundred acres that went from 100 percent sagebrush to 100 percent sold as an industrial park to 100 percent jobs, and it's already lled up and bulging at the seams," Wortham said. "Every day a new business arrives, and hundreds of new people are coming here and spending money. We're on the 'about-to-explode' stage of the curve. No one knows the number of jobs or businesses we have because it changes every day."

The shale boom in Sweetwater is less than two years old. Before early 2012, no one living within miles of Sweetwater had even heard of the Cline Shale, a geological formation running about 9,000 feet below west-central Texas. Then oil companies, or "operators," showed up in Nolan County, where Sweetwateris the government seat. The operators came to secure options to lease land above the shale, and they brought their checkbooks. Drought-stricken farmers and ranchers saw their desiccated acres morph into a windfall of $2 billion. Since then, more money has flowed into neighboring counties on the southwest side of the Cline. Royalties yet to come could dwarf lease payments.

Most rural towns with an official population of 11,000 would be overwhelmed. But the Cline Shale isn't Sweetwater's first energy rodeo. Sited on the edge of the famed Permian Basin, the town has seen plenty of conventional oil drilling and production. But in 2000, wind energy developers and financiers arrived as suddenly as the shale boom would in 2012. They built 1,371 wind turbines in Nolan County and pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into local economies.

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January 2014

by ME Magazine