The number of drilling rigs working in the Eagle Ford dropped by half in the past year, from 203 to 93. Across the country, more than 1,000 drilling rigs have been stacked.
McMullen County pumped 2.7 million barrels of oil in June, down from 3.6 million barrels the same month last year.
DeWitt County’s total property value, much of it based on oil and gas wealth, fell by $1.15 billion this year, down 16 percent.
The Eagle Ford’s biggest oil producers have issued a series of gloomy announcements. Houston-based EOG Resources made just $5.3 million in the second quarter, down 99 percent from the same period last year. ConocoPhillips last week said it would lay off 10 percent of its workforce. Marathon Oil Corp. posted a $386 million net income loss for the second quarter.
Dennis Elam, associate professor of accounting at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, said the smaller, more overleveraged shale companies are drilling wells just to pay debt. “They’re chasing the water right down the drain,” he said.
South Texans track other economic measures — traffic jams on rural roads or the advertised prices for hotel rooms in the region, now as low as $40.
A few years ago, DeWitt County Sheriff Jode Zavesky lost seven employees in three weeks to the oil field. The police academy in Victoria had to cancel classes because everyone was going to work in the oil field instead. “We’ve got great benefits,” Zavesky said. “But a young guy can’t buy diapers on great health insurance.”
Now, Zavesky has hired some of his old deputies back and said the police academy has seen a bump in enrollment.
He’s also seen an uptick in oil field crime — the theft of tools from work sites and people stripping copper from the drilling rigs parked along the side of the road.
Joy Tipton, who owns the Little White House Country Store in Fowlerton, judges the oil market by what time she starts to hear traffic rumbling down Texas 97. The noise used to start around 5 a.m., with trucks hauling sand, water and oil flowing past her place like a mechanical river. In August, it stayed quiet until around 9 a.m.
Blink-and-miss-it Fowlerton, with 62 residents the last time the Census Bureau bothered to count in 2000, hugs the La Salle-McMullen county lines. In recent months, a small restaurant and oil field supply company closed their doors.
That left Tipton as the only one to give unsolicited advice to oil field workers who stop to buy a soft drink or after-work beer: “Don’t speed. Don’t eat your dessert before you eat that sandwich. There’s a police officer down there.”