With communities bowing under the stress of school overcrowding, soaring traffic fatalities, drug abuse and strains on the power grid, more than a dozen top U.S. energy companies have pledged $100 million toward easing the stresses caused by the natural gas boom in the Permian Basin area of West Texas.
Bobby Burns, president and CEO of the Midland Chamber of Commerce, says the improvements that could come from the money would serve the interests of residents and energy companies alike.
“They see the ability to make money, but they need people,” Burns says. “To get more people to move out here, you need more schools, you need more roads, you need more infrastructure and you need more hospitals. They know the impact is more than [the government] can handle at the speed that they need.”
With so many things putting stress on Permian Basin cities like Midland, the next issue for the energy companies is to decide what projects to prioritize, Burns says.
“Midland, Texas has the chance to be the Abu Dhabi of West Texas, or of the United States,” Burns says. “There’s this amazing oil field out here and amazing dollars are going to flow, but how do we create a city that people want to live in and come to? That’s the challenge – we’ve got to create a different city where a different generation wants to make this their home.”
The population of Midland does not decrease along with downturns in the energy sector; schools stay full all the time.
“Quite frankly we could lose people right now – it would be nice to, at some level, because it would take some pressure off the roads and the schools and everything else,” Burns says. “Midland could use the breather to get ready for the future because no matter what, these oil companies are getting ready for a growth number that’s pretty remarkable, and Midland will be right in the middle of it, as will the Permian Basin.”
A group has been hired to strategize how to best use the money, but there is not yet a timeline for when the money will be divvied out.
“As you look at Midland and Odessa and the entire Permian Basin, Midland doesn’t just get the $100 million,” Burns says. “There are other cities out here that should and could, and deserve the help. I don’t want to say that the $100 million is not enough but I will tell you $100 million is not enough – [it’s] just getting started.”
Written by Brooke Vincent.