Booming Texas oil fields need workers to build highways
Highway 302, an 83-mile-long, often single-lane road that runs from Odessa, Texas, home to a variety of oilfield servicers, to Loving County, in the western part of the Permian oil field basin, is a stretch that saw traffic jump by 76 percent in 2017, and it's continued to rise this year.
Roads, not pipelines, geology or labor shortages, are the biggest long-term threat to sustainable growth in the Permian, the world's busiest shale oil field.
The biggest problem with building more roads is not the the physical cost of the materials, but a lack of available workers and affordable housing. It's tough to match the high pay offered in the oilfields.
With oil money flowing in to state coffers, funding is not an issue. Some $250 million will be spent next year to upgrade road infrastructure, mainly additional lanes, and will increase to $360 million in 2020, according to the state transportation department. That's almost 10 times the amount spent in 2012.
Besides slow deliveries, the lack of an adequate road system has also boosted the number of accidents.
There's now a road fatality every 35 hours in the oilfield's counties, more frequent than the 75 hours seen two years ago, according to the Permian Road Safety Coalition, a group of companies and community representatives. That's 147 victims this year through July.
"It's the most dangerous part of the whole business," one industry veteran said.
Truck drivers are in such demand that a high-school graduate with a commercial driver's license can easily be earning $120,000 a year in the Permian, perhaps as much as $200,000 a year with overtime.
It means working 80, 100-hour weeks. “A lot of drivers will cheat and use narcotics, helping them get through. All it does is create dangerous situation. We have a lot more accidents, a lot more fatalities,” said one local.