The Second Oil Boom - Nov. 8th, 2007

By Hema Mullur
NewsWest 9

Now hiring and not enough workers.  It's a sign of growth across West Texas, and it's all too familiar for some.

"There was a shortage of housing, a shortage of workers, exactly the same thing as we have now."

"Then" was the now legendary oil boom of the late 70's and 80's.

A time when fortunes were made and West Texans were flying higher than ever.  Morris Burns, former president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, remembers what it was like.

"Oh it was great, it was fun!  You know, very much like it is now.  Everybody was very optimistic, you know, this is never going to end."

But as for many good things, an end was imminent.

"January 1st of '86, the price was $29," said Burns.  "And by April 1st, it was $9."

And the once burgeoning oil fields withered.

"The joke that was going around in the mid-80's was, 'What do you call a geologist in Midland?  Hey waiter!'"

But today, as oil prices once again near $100 a barrel, are West Texans just repeating history?

"I still don't like to call it a boom, because that's followed by that other 4 letter word, bust."

Ron Waters owns an oilfield service company in Goldsmith.

"Myself included, a lot of people got burned on the last boom."

Despite the hard times, Waters still runs his business today, and he's recruited a new employee, his son Jesse.

"I want to make money, and have all the things that, you know, I've seen the older generation have."

Jesse, like many others his age, is seeing the business for the first time.

"There's the older generation constantly reminding us to, you know, watch my spending, and my plans on growth."

"Definitely, all the time," Ron agreed.  "But that's my job is to temper some of his excitement and exuberance."

As the older generation prepares to pass the torch, their lessons learned show.

"We're a little more conservative as far as our financing," said Ron.  "Maybe you might buy a used piece of equipment versus a new one."

"People are more cautious, because they know, they saw people, or they had friends or relatives, or they read about people that went broke," Burns agreed.

Though oil prices are high, it's doubtful we'll see the opulence that once was.

"There was a Rolls Royce dealership in Midland, I doubt very seriously we will see another Rolls Royce dealership," Burns recalled.  "People were going around with a diamond studded drill bit hanging around their neck, and things like this."

And that's not the only change.  Today, Morris Burns runs the NATCO Training Center.

"Back in the late 70s, early 80s, there was no oilfield training for safety," he said.  "You just grabbed somebody up.  If you got a warm body, you just put them to work, and there were lots and lots of people hurt, killed, and lost limbs."

"You go through a lot more testing now on the drug testing, the background checks for your drivers, getting CDLs, having clear records," Jesse agreed.

It's a process to ensure those in the oil business are there to stay, because this time, many don't see an end in sight.

"The market's much different, I'd say, now," said Jesse.  "It's not a supply market, it's a demand market."

"We're going to have some ups and downs, but nothing to that degree," Ron said.  "The opportunity right now is just unbelievable.  Any young person, wherever they're from, here's where to be."