The Eagle Ford Shale already has brought 5,000 jobs to San Antonio, and former Mayor Henry Cisneros offered a new expectation Tuesday, saying the oil and gas development likely will bring a total of 10,000 jobs to the city within three years.
Ten thousand jobs would have twice the economic effect as that of the Toyota pickup plant and its suppliers, he said, even as he sought to tamp down enthusiasm a bit.
“We must guard against irrational exuberance. When you have a windfall, it’s not wise to blow it,” said Cisneros, chairman of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, who spoke at a panel discussion sponsored by the San Antonio Clean Technology Forum.
“We could do real damage if we don’t do this in a balanced, serious way, because when the boom mentality takes over, there can be a tendency to rush past the safeguards,” he said. Shale development “can be damaging to the environment, to the land, the water or to the community in the long run. We don’t want everyone to get in that mode of irrational exuberance where the momentum overrides good judgment.”
The seven other panelists at Tuesday’s event agreed with Cisneros that development of Eagle Ford must be done responsibly.
The heart of the shale play lies under 22 South Texas counties and is regarded as one of the top two or three plays in the nation. Drilling permits in the Eagle Ford have jumped from 26 in 2008 to 2,991 in early November, according to Texas Railroad Commission data.
“This is the kind of moment that only comes once a century,” Mayor Julián Castro said in greeting those who attended the forum at the Pearl Stable. He said that the Eagle Ford promises to transform Texas in the same way that Spindletop did.
Leodoro Martinez, executive director of the Middle Rio Grande Development Council, said groups in the shale formed the Eagle Ford Consortium to plan for change.
Having a collective approach to improving educational opportunities is key, Martinez said. “We have an opportunity to stop the brain drain and to start small businesses” to service Eagle Ford operators.
Drew Nelson, clean energy project manager at the Environmental Defense Fund, said his organization is concerned about the quantities of water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing. His organization is working on ways to minimize leaks that could contaminate water.
In some shale plays, including the Marcellus in the northeast, heavy truck traffic is the No. 1 complaint, Nelson said.
“Now is the time to get everything right,” Nelson said.
NuStar Energy CEO Curt Anastasio said that more pipelines are being built in the shale. That will reduce truck traffic and air emissions from trucks.
“Pipelines are safer than trucks or ships,” said Anastasio, whose San Antonio-based company owns pipelines, storage and refineries.
Oil and gas companies aren’t ignoring environmental concerns, said Kent Wilkinson, vice president of natural gas ventures at Chesapeake Energy Corp.
“We are working actively to displace diesel,” Wilkinson said. Chesapeake plans to break ground next year on a liquefied natural gas plant near Pearsall as it moves forward with plans to switch to natural gas from diesel to power its trucks and its drilling operations.
Wilkinson declined to say how much the company plans to spend on the plant. An announcement is planned for early 2012.
The San Antonio Clean Technology Forum is a think tank founded in 2008 by oil executive Michael Burke with the goal of discussing and advocating for the best ideas in renewable energy. The forum meets periodically.
Tuesday’s event attracted the group’s largest crowd to date. Burke said his organization focused on the Eagle Ford because the nation will continue to rely on oil and gas for a significant time as a bridge to renewable energy sources.
Express-News Writer Tracy Idell Hamilton contributed to this report.