In Permian Basin Oil Towns, Locals Are Realists About Boom And Bust Cycles

Even on the edge of the second-largest oil discovery in the world, long-time residents save their money for inevitable rainy days.

By Alexandra HartApril 27, 2018 10:16 am,

It’s common to talk about the oil boom’s effect on energy companies, and the economy as a whole. But what isn’t talked about as much is the way the energy economy affects the people living in oil boom towns like Midland and Odessa – towns whose residents’ fortunes are at the mercy of the boom and bust cycles of the industry that defines them.

Andy Uhler, an Austin-based reporter for Marketplace, traveled to the Permian Basin to learn about life in a boomtown. He says people in the oil patch are well aware that their fortunes are tied to the price of a speculative commodity, and that hard times could return at any moment.

“You talk about how volatile the situation is, and I kept raising that with people that I talked to,” Uhler says. “They just kind of think it’s part of the context of how they live their lives. Folks in Midland save their money when things are good.”

Uhler says Midlanders can tell who’s a newcomer and who’s been in town awhile.

“The outsider is probably buying a really nice truck,” he says “and the Midlander is probably stashing that money away, because they know that the inevitable bust is going to happen.”

On the other hand, Uhler says, people in the Permian Basin know that the land under their communities is the second largest oil field in the world, and they’re often boosters for their community and how it gets its wealth.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.