COTULLA - One of the biggest economic booms in the history of Texas is unfolding just a few hours north of the Rio Grande Valley. A gigantic geological formation called the Eagle Ford Shale is filled with oil and natural gas. It is creating countless new jobs in several south Texas counties.
The formation covers 23 counties - from College Station to an area near Laredo. The Eagle Ford Shale generated $25 billion in revenue last year. It has created 47,000 full-time jobs.
Oil and gas drilling and production have boomed so fast that companies can't find enough people to fill the jobs available. Most of those jobs require only a high school diploma. Free training is available for many positions.
The companies perform hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Companies inject water at high pressure into the rock formation to open it up so they can extract the oil and gas inside. The method allows companies to access deposits that were not accessible just a few years ago. The jobs are not far away.
A CHANNEL 5 NEWS crew drove just four hours north to the town of Cotulla.
The area has become a magnet for workers from around Texas. The oil and gas boom has transformed the sleepy little town north of Laredo.
Cotulla officials said there is a continuous investment by the oil and gas companies in the region.
Randy Ramirez, 22, of Edinburg, landed a job. He had no experience in the oil industry. "We're drilling here. EP Energy is drilling wells left and right," Ramirez said. He is a field operator. "We maintain production of oil and gas," Ramirez said.
New technologies are helping create a jackpot for companies like Chesapeake Energy. "Before hydraulic fracturing was coupled with horizontal drilling, you had to drill about 16 wells on each property," Haley Curry said. She is with Chesapeake Energy. "As you see here, we only have to drill one well. We'll get at the same amount, if not more, oil and natural gas," Curry said.
The oil boom is also benefiting other businesses.
The Gardendale Railroad yard had only 1,600 feet of track two years ago. The yard now has about 25 miles of track in roughly one square mile. Materials and equipment constantly roll in, destined for oil and gas fields. Petroleum and gas roll north to the refineries. "Two years ago, nobody worked out here," Gardendale Railroad General Manager Dal Randle said. "The car will come in here ... unload it, and we'll send it out of here and it'll go straight back and get loaded and come right back," Randle said.
Cotulla's population has more than doubled in the past couple of years. The boom is putting a strain on the roads. About 14,000 vehicles pass through the tiny downtown intersection every day. The town's city hall is overflowing with plans waiting approval for new subdivisions and hotels. "These are maps that have been approved for construction. There are some that have been completed. Each day we get new sets of maps," Cotulla City Manager Larry Dovalina said. At least three hotels are under construction. Ten were built in the past three years. "I worked in Laredo for 29 years and I was city manager there when we had some of the most explosive growth. We didn't have this kind of growth," Dovalina said.
"The restaurants are full. The hotels are full. The gas stations are full. Right down to the hardware stores ... everybody across the board," Randle said.
RV parks can be found throughout the town. The cost to rent one space for a small RV starts at about $550 per month. A furnished one-room studio apartment runs about $325 per week, or $1,300 per month. In Cotulla, and across the Eagle Ford Shale, oilfield housing is everywhere. One location in Cotulla has 54, four-man cabins. Two teams of two guys rotate through shifts on a 24-hour basis. The cleaning is done by the landlords.
"Anything that you need, you just need to go talk to them and they'll get you what you need," Bobby Mata said. He is from Orange Grove, near Alice.
"It's a great place. They take care of us. They feed us breakfast, dinner," Mata said. Mata has been working in Cotulla for about eight months. He started in the oil industry seven years ago as a laborer and now holds an engineering position."Being away from home is just the main thing, but you've got to do what you've got to do to provide for your family," Mata said.
Another fact of life in Cotulla is a workforce shortage. "It's hard to find enough people to work for all the jobs that are available. A lot of them have grabbed the oilfield jobs, which are good for them and they pay well," Maryanne Hall said. She is with the Cotulla Chamber of Commerce.
"We need everything from pumpers to drivers with valid commercial driver's license to field engineers," Curry said.
Recruiters are turning to the Valley for workers.
"They're looking for folks ... from roughnecks to rustabouts to technicians right away ... supervisors, foremen," Victor de Leon said. He is with Texas Workforce Solutions.
College degrees are not necessary to find a good-paying job.
Rigo Gonzalez and his 18-year-old son found work in Cotulla. They are from Rio Grande City. The father and son maintain trucks.
For workers like Ramirez, the boom is a solid shot at a secure future. "It's a good chance to make some good money," Ramirez said. Some of that money is flowing south to the Valley.
The Eagle Ford Shale boom is expected to last at least another 10 years. The number of full-time jobs is expected to hit 117,000 by 2021.
People interested in finding a job in the Eagle Ford Shale should call Texas Workforce Solutions at 1-877-687-1121.