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New Mexico oil country struggles as cities boom

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 7, 2014 at 1:03 pm •  Published: May 7, 2014

And given the region's boom-and-bust history, some development is hampered by an underlying fear that the riches will fade as fast as they came.

"There isn't a major lender in the country that hasn't had some foreclosed property in the energy sector," Cobb said.

Wally Drangmeister, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the group has met with members of Congress and local lawmakers, working to expedite housing and underscore challenges that accompany quick expansions.

"There's obviously not a silver bullet answer for things like the housing or the roads, but we've been active, we've been trying to do everything we can to be supportive," he said.

Drangmeister acknowledged communities' fears of a bust.

"We don't know any more than anybody what the price of oil will be in the future," he said, adding that there will be high levels of development "as far as the eye can see" if prices stay above $80 per barrel.

Carlsbad, meanwhile, is struggling to adapt to the influx of transient oil workers, a new breed for a city that previously existed more along the fringe of oil country. Past booms here have brought miners, scientists to the federal government's underground nuclear waste dump and tourists visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Eddy County, where the city is located, last year became the top oil-producing county in New Mexico, pumping out 51.5 million barrels of crude.

In Carlsbad, perhaps the biggest public safety danger is the unchecked heavy truck traffic and DWIs on the narrow rural roads lined by oil rigs, said Janway, the mayor. Eddy County has already recorded nine roadway fatalities this year, compared with 15 in all of 2013.

Janway recently sent a letter to Gov. Susana Martinez, pleading for help to increase patrols on rural roads.

The city also is struggling to meet housing demands. It's working on annexing a new master-planned community that would ultimately house about 9,000 people south of town.

Still, housing is less of a challenge in Carlsbad than in the traditionally more oil-dependent Hobbs, Janway said, because it never suffered the long bust and subsequent dramatic boom. But Carlsbad trails in attracting retail, restaurants and hotels because of its more remote location, he said.

With each new business comes increased competition for workers. The McDonald's in Carlsbad is offering up to $55,000 a year for a manager. Virtually every company in Hobbs has posted a help-wanted sign.

"We cannot even begin, though our economic development corporation, chamber of commerce, to consciously go out on an employment campaign across the country because if we had 100 people come to town hunting for jobs we'd have no place for them to live," Shaw said.