So the story of the Eagle Ford Shale is fairly well known to anyone who reads a newspaper. The story is rooted mostly in South Texas, a poor and often marginalized region of the country that today carries significant national and geopolitical ramifications for the future. The story has to do with the discovery of an oil and gas formation that stretches across 30 counties, some the poorest in the country. Together with new and greater volumes of oil and gas production in Canada, North Dakota, Mexico, Brazil and other areas off the coasts of the continents, the South Texas find is realigning the components of the international energy equation that is essential to the country’s energy security and lessening dependence on the Mideast and its chronic instability. With activity in the area expected to last for decades especially as new technology maximizes production, the importance of the Eagle Ford and South Texas to the country’s geopolitical interests should be evident.
For the counties themselves, half of which have high concentrations of HispanicLatinos, the oil and gas found in the shale formation can be also the source of two critical opportunities. The first are the economic opportunities at hand for a population which has seen few. A recent trip through the region revealed an astounding amount of economic activity not seen uniformly across these counties since the legendary cattle roundups of the late 1800’s. An economic boom the like of which can be seen at every overcrowded restaurant, hotel and Dairy Queen requires services and products of almost every kind. Entrepreneurs and businesses of every size have opportunities before them no one could have imagined only four years ago. For some the sky could be the limit.
The second opportunity might prove more profound and decisive for the long term. For the first time, local school and college districts in this region that have scraped by on weak tax bases – with correspondingly weak schools to show for it – can realize new tax revenues to improve the education of thousands of children. The boom sweeping the region is an opportunity for local leaders to make visionary decisions for the future of the state and the country.
It was to this area in 1928 that a highly idealistic young man named Lyndon Johnson came down from the Hill Country to teach at an elementary school in Cotulla in La Salle County, one of seven counties sitting on the Eagle Ford with the most oil and gas activity. It is hard to find schools in this area that are more than average, staffed often with dispirited, poorly paid teachers working with equally discouraged students. During the recent Christmas break, two teachers in one of the towns nearby simply did not come back to school. One did not even call in. Just quit.
The extent to which Eagle Ford represents new taxes and revenues has yet to be determined, and it is not the answer to everything. Still, the opportunity is a new one and cannot be squandered but it offers the possibility to expand educational opportunities and improve staffs so that a long-bedraggled population can recreate itself with a new image and new purpose.
For other areas of the country, similar economic opportunities could be found in a large and visionary remaking of the country’s infrastructure. Where there are no Eagle Fords, there must be other sources of economic progress.
The implications on the environment, however, must be considered. Safe management and exploration practices must guarantee that the region’s water sources are protected, for what would it matter if we equipped an entire population with post-graduate degrees and still ruined their lives?
Were that the case the eagle would crash and burn.
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