ELK CITY — The renewed search for oil in western Oklahoma has turned communities throughout the region into boom towns again.
Many communities across northern and western Oklahoma have benefitted greatly from the economic growth created by oil and natural gas drilling.
Unemployment rates in the region are among the lowest in the country.
New hotels and restaurants are under construction throughout the area.
Property values are surging as newcomers struggle to find homes.
In Elk City, geography, geology and community vision have combined to help the town of nearly 12,000 people become one of the key centers of the trend.
Elk City is located along Interstate 40 almost exactly halfway between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, making it a logical location to service drilling activity throughout the area. The community is easily accessible to businesses and customers in the two larger cities about two and a half hours away.
Geology also plays a key role. Like much of western Oklahoma, Elk City lies atop multiple, rich layers of rock oozing with oil and natural gas. Some plays near the area have as many as eight layers of rock rich with oil and natural gas.
But unlike many areas in western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, Elk City has plenty of water. The community is on the edge of an aquifer, providing it access to billions of gallons of water that is sometimes harder to find farther west.
Past experience with previous oil booms also led Elk City leaders to invest in a strong water system, providing the community with a daily water capacity of nearly twice its current daily volumes.
The community vision has helped out in more ways than water infrastructure. Few communities of 12,000 have the foresight to hire their own travel and tourism director.
“It really is an all-inclusive community, yet we're a two-hour drive from two major metropolitan areas,” said Tawana Thomas, director of the Elk City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We're big enough to experience growth, but small enough to be flexible.
Recipe yields success
Altogether, the recipe has created success for Elk City.
Oil and gas powers such as Chesapeake Energy Corp., Apache Corp. and Linn Energy have established and staffed field offices in Elk City to oversee drilling and production operations throughout western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle.
Forbes magazine in January named Elk City the 10th fastest-growing small town in the nation.
Two new hotels are under construction, and plans are under way for more than 100 new homes over the next year.
Longtime residents of Elk City and the other western Oklahoma boom towns are enjoying today's growth while always watching for the next bust. They know the strong times they have today are heavily dependent on oil and natural gas prices, which have a long history of volatility.
But at least for now, they are making the most of the renewed attention their corner of the country has received.