Growing housing pains rampant

Howard County commissioners met with attorneys during a special meeting Monday morning, as the court looks to move forward with much-needed housing regulations ahead of the expected shale-fueled boom in the local oilfield.According to County Judge Mark Barr, commissioners met with attorneys from Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP of Austin to discuss what measures the county needs to take to regulate expected housing within the county, including RV parks and possible man camps.“We didn't take any action during the meeting. Right now, we're at the phase where we're trying to bring in consultants and attorneys who deal with these types of issues on a daily basis,” Barr said. “We have to gather all of the necessary information before we can tackle this issue.”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.Barr said he expects to schedule public hearings on the matter toward the end of April or possibly the beginning of May.“It's important the local citizens and business owners understand whatever regulations we come up with, they will have a chance to have their say in the matter,” Barr said. “That's what the upcoming public hearings will be all about. And we're hoping to not just have residents involved in the process, we also want the businesses who are going to be affected.“The last thing we want to do is handcuff anyone or any business. That's not our goal here. However, we have to start somewhere. It's sort of like herding cats. We know it's going to be a complex, but we feel like if everyone comes together, we have a better shot of getting this right. We'll be publishing details in the Big Spring Herald, along with the dates and times of the public hearing.”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.”As the Cline Shale draws more and more oil companies to the Crossroads area, Barr said it will become vital for both the county and the city to work together to make accommodations.“Cooperation between the county and the city of Big Spring is going to be imperative,” he said. “We're going to have to work together to make sure we protect the city and the county and the people who live here. If we don't protect them, the oil companies are simply going to come in and take what they want, then leave.”