As the Bakken and Eagle Ford shale plays have shown, oil and gas wells go up long before there are enough homes for all the workers who flock to the energy patch for high-paying jobs. A study released Tuesday intends to lay out a strategy for Eagle Ford counties in South Texas to meet regional housing needs over the next 10-15 years.

The study — commissioned by the the University of Texas at San Antonio Small Business Development Center’s Rural Business Program — considered three scenarios for Eagle Ford development: 3,000 wells per year between 2010 and 2020 (the high, short-term case); 1,700 wells per year between 2010 and 2025 (the low, long-term case and the “most likely”); and 3,000 wells per year between 2010 and 2030 (the high, long-term case).

The six counties studied are Dimmitt, Frio, La Salle, Maverick, Webb and Zavala. Research relied in part upon findings of an earlier university-supported study of Eagle Ford economic development (see Shale Daily, May 14; May 10).

Over the next 14 years under the most likely scenario, the region will see the creation of 7,913 transient and permanent rig-related jobs, the study said.

“For the past 10 years (2000-2010), the original population of the study area has grown by 65,958 people despite the drop in population in two counties (Dimmitt and Zavala),” the study said. “With the drilling activities, the population growth has increased to 71,840 people…The total population will continue to grow with the increase estimated to be 86,297 by 2025 [under the most likely scenario].”

Growth includes permanent and transient workers and their families. “Policymakers need to address sustainable housing solutions that can absorb this growth, including maintaining existing housing through rehabilitation programs,” the study said. “Rig-related jobs are available, and will likely continue to be in great demand in the western Eagle Ford Shale region throughout its lifecycle. The population in this area is growing rapidly, and newcomers are younger than the region’s current residents.”

Researchers cited documented housing shortages in North Dakota “when the oil boom generated rapid economic growth and plenty of jobs” there (see Shale Daily, May 18). Motels and apartment complexes filled up and some workers slept in cars. The same is likely in the Eagle Ford, the researchers said.

“The shortage of housing has become more noticeable in the region throughout the past two years,” the study said. “According to newspaper reports, hotels in the area have high to full occupancy rates; rents are also higher and small apartment complexes are full. It is also difficult to lease RV [recreational vehicle] slots. Due to this high demand, housing prices have also increased.”

The research included multiple focus groups with stakeholders such as energy company employees, local government and housing officials. “The most prominent issue that emerged in these discussions is the need for affordable housing,” the study said. “Local property owners that own apartments and other housing in the area are taking advantage of the demand for housing by raising rental rates. This has resulted in a number of local inhabitants becoming homeless.”

While homelessness has affected “locals,” oil and gas workers also are affected by the housing shortage as they have to commute long distances and be apart from families whose members live elsewhere.

“On the local community level, solutions to meet the needs of the oil and gas workers and local residents need to involve oil and gas companies,” the study said. Focus group participants said energy companies should be required to provide temporary housing and semi-permanent housing for their workers “in a more sustainable manner.”

After energy workers leave the provided housing, it could be used by local residents, focus group participants said.