CUSHING — Much has changed in Cushing over the past five years.
I last visited the Pipeline Capitol of the World in April 2007. At that time, oil prices were climbing and there was great talk about the city growing for the first time in decades.
Still, many of the businesses remained empty along State Highway 33, which runs through the center of town. Business and community leaders were excited about the possibility of continued growth, but Cushing was still early in its recovery.
When I returned to The Oklahoman earlier this month, my editor and I discussed revisiting Cushing. I wanted to see how much growth the community had experienced. I wanted to see whether the town had benefitted from five years of soaring crude oil prices and a rapid return to domestic crude oil drilling throughout the middle part of the country.
And the growth has happened while the rest of the country has been suffering through economic recession.
In the years since my last visit, crude oil storage tank construction has been nonstop throughout Cushing.
The large metal drums — each containing between 75,000 and 600,000 barrels of oil — dot the prairie surrounding Cushing in all directions, with more than 100 more tanks under construction or still planned.
The town best known for its pipelines since the 1920s is now one of the richest communities in the country, if you count the billions of dollars worth of crude oil the large black and white containers hold.
The tanks have been built by a constant stream of workers who, while most have not settled in the Cushing area, have spent their well-above-average paychecks at Cushing's restaurants, gas stations and hotels. The tanks and the crude they hold also have driven up property tax revenue and have allowed local schools to raise more money in bond elections.
Before I could make plans to return to Cushing, President Barack Obama beat me to it.
The president spoke at a nearby pipe yard Thursday, and I spent the week in Cushing, reporting both on the community's reaction to the president's visit and looking at how the area has benefitted from the growth in the pipeline and storage business.
The president on Thursday endorsed one pipeline designed to move oil out of Cushing and gave at least conditional support to another that would move hundreds of thousands of barrels per day into Cushing.
It's unclear exactly how the two pipelines would affect Cushing long term, but the effort promises to create hundreds of short-term construction jobs, and city and state leaders already are planning what to do with the increased tax revenue from the projects.
Watch for Adam Wilmoth's report on Cushing from observations this week in Sunday's edition of The Oklahoman.