IF YOU drove I-10 through West Texas ten years ago, you would find one or two pumpjacks and plains of dead grass. The sparse and unpopulated landscape was a product of the desolate economy, comprised mostly of activities like “Animal Production and Aquaculture,” “Truck Transportation,” and “Support Activities for Mining.” Ten percent of West Texans made minimum wage or less in 2010, and the rest earned little more. But by 2017, the picture looked radically different. Thanks to the rebirth of the oil industry, just three percent of West Texans made minimum wage or less––an unprecedented change in the class makeup of the region. GDP per capita rose by ten thousand dollars from 2010 to 2015––a kind of change that hadn’t occurred in the area for decades.
West Texas shows us that America’s new oil economy influences more than stock charts and geopolitics: it also impacts the livelihoods of the communities around oil fields. And yet, large oil and gas firms have remained largely oblivious to their workers’ conditions. The oil industry may bring short-term prosperity to its workers, but it drags its employees along as if oil would guarantee their futures—which it certainly will not. This is the reality of America’s corporate-centric energy policy.