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Housing concerns top county agenda

April 13, 2013

As interest in the expected Cline Shale oil boom continues to grow, Howard County commissioners will begin taking steps to prepare for the phenomenon during a special meeting Monday morning.

The court is expected to meet in an executive session with the Austin law firm Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP of Austin, which commissioners retained in early March. According to County Judge Mark Barr, they will be looking at ways to deal with the continued growth of RV and trailer parks within the county.

“We have to find a way to regulate the housing out in the county to prepare for the challenges the Cline Shale oil boom is going to present for Howard County,” Barr said. “We're not trying to inhibit anyone's ability to make money through these types of projects, but if we don't look at the regulations and what we will and won't allow, we could end up in over our heads later down the road.”

Barr said the county is already seeing a staggering growth in these types of housing projects, which include RV and trailer parks.

“Just during our last regularly scheduled meeting, we had six requests for septic permits for these types of properties,” Barr said. “It's not a matter of 'if they come' at this point. The oil business is coming and there are plenty of people out in the county who are looking to capitalize on it.”

As the supply for housing in the oil field continues to grow, so does the demand, according to Barr.

“They fill them up just as soon as they get them open,” he said. “It's certainly not slowing down. If anything, it's picking up speed. Right now, it's anyone's guess what the total demand is going to look like once this boom gets into full swing. We'll just have to wait and see.”

Barr said the agenda for Monday's meeting is worded to allow for discussion and possible action on the issues, however, he doesn't expect the commissioners court to begin voting just yet.

“We put that on the agenda just in case we found something that absolutely had to be acted on now,” Barr said. “Honestly, I don't anticipate anything like that at this time. We're very much in the infancy of this issue, so we have a lot of work to do before we have anything to vote on.”

The court's decision to take up the matter of housing growth due to the Cline Shale oil boom comes a little more than a week after local officials and residents met with officials from the Eagle Ford Shale Consortium, a South Texas group which is approximately two years ahead of the local shale oil boom.

Jeff Labenz-Hough, who works for HDR Inc., a Nebraska-based architecture, engineering, consulting and construction company, said during the recent Cline Shale meeting one of the most important aspects of preparing for the oil boom in Howard County will be cooperation between the city and county regarding housing in the oil field.

“Your county and city officials have to work together to decide where these facilities will be allowed and what design standards they will have to follow,” he said. “They also have to establish the rules for the men who are going to inhabit them.

“All of this has to be planned out so the city or county can get the most out of the investments in the infrastructure. It's also very important city and county officials make sure those standards are the same for both areas, otherwise you'll just have companies building camps right outside the city limits. And we all know where those guys are going to go when they have some time off … straight to the city.”

Early estimates for the Cline Shale formation — based on Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy’s exploration in the area — put the estimated recoverable reserves at 30 billion barrels of oil. By comparison, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Eagle Ford holds up to 7 billion to 10 billion in recoverable reserves, while the Bakken Shale could hold as much as 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Monday's meeting is set to begin at 9 a.m. Monday old commissioners courtroom, located on the second floor of the county courthouse. For more information, contact the county judge's office at 432-264-2244.

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