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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, September 8, 2006

Gulf oil find shouldn’t affect Basin drilling boom

Shale development efforts could play major role in city’s future economy

A major oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico that could increase U.S. reserves by as much as 50 percent shouldn’t have a major impact on the oil industry in the Permian Basin, according to the incoming president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association.

Kirk Edwards, who’ll replace longtime PBPA president Morris Burns in October, said lower production levels at other U.S. sites and increased fuel consumption should help maintain the area’s drilling activity.

Edwards also said current efforts in the Pecos area to extract oil from shale formations could create one of the largest oil booms in the U.S. in decades, if a successful extraction process can be developed.

“Reeves and Culberson counties are among the hottest plays in the country right now, but they haven’t hit what they were expecting to hit,” he said.

The oil and gas, locked in shale formations, is similar to those in North Texas, which have attracted major drilling activity in recent years. Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy signed a $181 million deal last month to drill for gas in the Barrett Shale formation beneath Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and similar formations are located in areas around Pecos.

A 2005 auction of University Land owned by the State of Texas in Culberson County sold out, but three-year leases put up for auction in nearby areas this past spring drew fewer bids, due to the problems with the test wells.

“If that played out, we’d probably have one of the biggest oil booms Texas has ever seen. But we haven’t seen the test wells produce what we’ve hoped,” Edwards said.

Keeping the wells clear of rock fractures in the shale is one of the major problems that drilling companies are trying to resolve. “You will see a huge increase in oilfield work if that happens, and Pecos would be at the center position for all that activity,” Edwards said. Oil prices have more than tripled since 2000, which has caused a near doubling in mineral valuations in the Trans-Pecos area since that time, while reviving the oil and gas drilling industry around Pecos, which has been almost dormant since prices collapsed 20 years ago. The latest boom has benefited a number of local businesses. Sales tax receipts in Pecos are up over10 percent in 2006 after a rise of just under 10 percent last year, while collections from the city’s hotel-motel occupancy tax are running 10 percent above projections. But the city has yet to see much in the way of new businesses opening or new home construction, and in-town property valuations have dropped during the same time mineral valuations have risen by an average of 90 percent.

The offshore discovery announced on Tuesday could be the biggest domestic oil find in 38 years, but production is at least five years away, and would require drilling of dozens more wells in the deep Gulf waters.

A group led by Chevron Corp. tapped a petroleum pool that lies 270 miles south of New Orleans - and almost four miles beneath the ocean floor - in a region that could hold as much as 15 billion barrels of oil, or more than Alaska's Prudhoe Bay.

``It confirms a new frontier, a new horizon in the ultra-deep water,'' said Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of ``The Prize,'' the Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the oil industry. ``It isn't energy independence,'' he added.

“I think it will have no impact to what’s going on in the U.S. at this time,” said Edwards, who currently works for McLondon Royalty Co. “Every day we’re depleting the reserves in our domestic oil patch, yet every day we increase our need for oil. So 200,000 to 400,000 barrels of oil will be more than offset.”

The announcement said a test well in the Gulf sustained a flow rate of more than 6,000 barrels per day. “At 6,000 barrels a day you’re going to have to have 40-50 of these wells, and they won’t be drilling the next one until next year,” Edwards said.

He added that the depth of the well and its location in the Gulf of Mexico hurricane path also could limit the field’s full-time reliability.

“It’s a wonderful find, but in the scheme of world oil production, it won’t make much of a difference in world oil prices,” said Edwards, who added that the Chevron project should help lessen fears about major oil spills in the Gulf and elsewhere.

“The great thing about this is it’s about 150 miles or so out in the ocean, and they had to go through 7,000 feet of water and then drill down 25,000 feet. That shows you how environmentally sound and safe it is, yet they won’t let us drill over 40 acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska,” he said. “That would be drilled on dry land, we already know the reserves are there and we could get it out quickly.”

For the near future, Edwards didn’t expect to see any major drop-off in the price of oil. “We could see prices softening to the $50-$60 range, depending on supplies and world conditions,” he said.

Hurricanes in the Gulf or increased fears of new wars in the Middle East could affect those calculations.

“Just in the last month or two things have worked out all right for the price to soften, and that’s why you’re seeing gasoline price drops of up to 30 cents,” said Edwards He added that natural gas prices also are down from the past, and should remain lower during the upcoming winter heating season.

Right now its in the $5-$6 range, which is well below where they’ve been,” he said. “Natural gas prices are predicted to move higher this winter, to the $8-$10 range, but that’s still much lower than they were last winter.”

Edwards said if the estimates are correct, homeowners should see a reduction of 30 to 50 percent in their heating costs this coming winter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Airport seeking help from city to remove trees

Town of Pecos City officials are still in talks with Pecos Municipal Airport managers Isabel and Dennis Blanchard about a new contract, and are also discussing way to help remove trees along the edge of the airport property near the Tra-Park mobile home area and the Maxey Park Athletic Pool.

City council members discussed the tree removal problem with Dennis Blanchard during an Aug. 29 budget workshop at City Hall, and city officials were scheduled to meet Thursday with the Blanchards on a new management deal.

Councilman Danny Rodriguez asked city utilities director Edgardo Madrid about helping with tree removal at the airport, after touring the site with the Blanchards prior to the workshop.

“We have asked on several occasions if there’s surplus time to clean out that area, and we’ll mow it,” Dennis Blanchard said.

Blanchard mows the areas around the runways and taxiways as required by federal regulations to maintain airport safety. The area in question is located behind the site of the old Pecos Army Airfield hangars that have since been demolished. They’re not in the way of airport traffic, but Blanchard said on Thursday they create a bad image of the airport for people driving around the perimeter and towards the main terminal.

“In order to do something like that, we need a bulldozer, and the city doesn’t have one right now,” Madrid told the council. He said the normal bulldozer used by the city at the landfill site was broken, and a rental bulldozer from a contractor was not available, and would be an added expense to rent if available.

“It costs the city $640 a day for the operator and the bulldozer,” he said. “In the budget for the landfill and for the municipal buildings, we don’t have the money.”

The work at the airport to clear the trees was estimated to be a 2-3 day job. Blanchard said on Thursday Madrid was scheduled to be at the airport this Monday to survey the project. He added that while they were trying to get the trees removed, the airport needed to maintain grass in the areas around the runways and taxiways to lower the problem of blowing dust during dry weather conditions.

Council members did not discuss the management contract for the airport during the Aug. 29 workshop, after going over the agreement at a previous workshop and agreeing to have city officials enter into negotiations with the Blanchards.

The city offered the couple a new contract last month that initially cut health care benefits, along with limits on utilities for their home at the airport and changes to the agreement that gave the Blanchards free use of one of the airport hangars for their personal plane.

Odessa union’s ex-bookkeeper pleads guilty in case

A former bookkeeper of Odessa admitted stealing money from a labor organization is now facing up to five years in federal prison. United States Attorney Johnny Sutton said that Judy Cary, former bookkeeper for the Communications Workers of America Local 6127 in Odessa, pleaded guilty to stealing money from the labor organization.

Appearing before United States Magistrate Judge L. Stuart Platt Friday afternoon, Cary admitted that from January 2001 to November 2005, she made out union checks to herself and cashed them. Cary also admitted that she covered up her actions by miscoding the checks in the union ledgers. According to the indictment in this case, Cary allegedly stole approximately $29,000. Cary faces up to five years in federal prison, a maximum $250,000 fine and full restitution to the Union.

Sentencing is scheduled for November before United States District Judge Robert Junell in Midland.

This case was investigated by the Department of Labor - Office of Labor Management Standards. Assistant United States Attorney John Klassen is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

New weather radio station close to starting broadcast

Reeves County will soon have a new weather radio transmitter, which will enable officials to put out word about severe weather and other type of disaster situations to all the residents.

“This is the first time that we have such a system such as this in the county and the community,” said Reeves County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricky Herrera. Herrera was on his way to Midland Thursday for training, and said that he hopes everything will be ready by the end of the month.

Reeves County received an $80,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office in March for construction of the NOAA weather radio transmitter.

Currently the nearest transmitter is in Midland and its signal is too weak to reach the Pecos area.

“We’re trying to put a program together and we’ll have any emergency or get information from Midland,” Herrera said. “We’ve been working really hard on it, we’re in the process of setting it up and we finally got everything together.”

Herrera said that they will be contacting the weather people who will come to Reeves County to promote the transmitter and to test it.

“We want to get the word out to the people, so that they can purchase their own weather radios,” said Herrera.

Herrera said that everyone will have the opportunity to get the information about severe weather situations, train derailments, plane crashes or other disaster situations that occur in the county or city.

Herrera said that through the weather transmitter they will contact Midland and have them put the word out in Reeves County about any emergency situation.

“We’ll keep everyone updated,” he said. “You can isolate who you want to receive this information, for example, if we want Reeves County to receive the information, we’ll contact the Midland Weather Station and they will put the word out in this county,” he said. Herrera said that this will be a big benefit to the community.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio stations are located in cities across the United States. The weather radio station requires a special radio to listen to the broadcast, but along with the regular weather forecast issued by the National Weather Service’s Midland office, emergency weather bulletins and special weather statements are broadcast over the channel for the specific area.

The $80,000 grant will fund a 1000 watt dual transmitter, generator and building for the station. According to a pres release from the USDA, the grant is supplemented by $58,000 in-kind local contributions, including tower space provided by the Reeves County Sheriff’s Department and electrical power provided through the county’s Emergency Management Department.

U.S. Congressman Henry Bonilla secured funding for the NOAA Weather Radio station for Pecos.

NOAA operates over 900 radio stations across the United States that broadcast weather information, including emergency weather bulletins and warnings from the National Weather Service. There already are 67 NOAA Weather Radio stations in Texas. Along with Midland, other West Texas cities which already have stations include El Paso, Lubbock, San Angelo, Amarillo, Seminole, Big Spring, Ozona, Sweetwater and Borger. The stations are located on one of six frequencies allocated by the Federal Communications Commission.

The NOAA stations require either a scanner or a special radio to pick up the broadcasts. The stations’ frequencies are located in the same area as the communication frequencies used by law enforcement and emergency service personnel.

Odessa man gets 10-year term after chase

An Odessa man who ran into Abilene High School to evade arrest on a firearms charge in an April incident has been convicted and sentenced in federal court.

Mark Russell McKee, 24, of Odessa, pled guilty in federal court on Sept. 1, in Lubbock to being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to United States Attorney Richard B. Roper.

McKee has been in custody since his arrest in May after fleeing from Abilene Police Officers and running into Abilene High School, causing evacuation of the school.

McKee fled after he was stopped by officers while they were in search of suspects of fencing stolen property from both the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the Odessa-Midland areas.

McKee, a convicted felon, faces an agreed 10-year federal prison term. The parties agree that any sentence in this federal case will run concurrent with any sentence that might be imposed by the Taylor County District Attorney’s Office for charges arising from the April 17, events. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

On April 7, 2006, detectives with the Abilene Police Department (APD) received information that the occupants of red newer-model Chevrolet Camaro with a spare (doughnut) tire installed on rear driver’s side wheel were involved in fencing stolen property. The detectives began searching for the vehicle and located it at Rick and Carolyn’s Burgers, located on South First Street in Abilene. The officers observed the vehicle and later saw an individuals later identified as Mark Russell McKee and a female enter the vehicle and leave the restaurant. McKee was driving the vehicle and the female was in the front passenger seat.

Shortly thereafter, the detectives attempted to detail McKee by positioning one unmarked police vehicle in front of McKee’s Camaro and another unmarked police vehicle blocking the Camaro from the rear. The detectives exited their unmarked units, identified themselves as APD officers, and ordered McKee to kill the vehicle. McKee began to comply with the detectives’ commands and then suddenly accelerated the vehicle in the direction of one of the detectives. The detective jumped to the side to avoid McKee’s vehicle while McKee jumped the curb to avoid the roadblock and drove eastbound on South First Street. McKee then encountered a marked APD police unit with its red and blue emergency lights activitated. McKee went around the APD patrol unit and turned northbound onto Shelton Street. APD pursued McKee to the 200 block of North Shelton Street, where they discontinued pursuit because McKee was headed towards Abilene High School at a time when the school day was ending.

McKee proceeded to Abilene High School where he abandoned the Camaro and grabbed a Colt, Model Cobra, .38 special caliber revolver, then fled through the school and later escaped from the officers by vehicle. McKee, a convicted felon, admitted that he knowingly possessed the aforementioned firearm, and used it to facilitate his escape from APD officers.

U.S. Attorney Roper praised the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Abilene Police Department, the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, the Midland Police Department, and the Odessa Police Department.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrrey R. Haag of the Lubbock, U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Events scheduled to assist with cancer treatment

A fundraiser is planned for a longtime Pecos resident who is undergoing cancer treatment in Houston.

Gilda Vejil, who was the owner of Gilda’s Shear Talent, a volunteer for different organizations, including at the Pecos Nursing Home, where she was instrumental in procuring an aquarium for the residents, is currently undergoing cancer treatment.

Vejil also volunteered for God’s Army, redoing and updating their bathroom, has made two banners for the facility, which is used primarily by the youth in the community. She was also the cook for the First Baptist Church’s Wednesday night dinners, until she was unable to cook.

“She is still in Houston, going through treatment and she has an appointment to see her doctor on Friday,” said her son, David Vejil.

“At that time we’ll find out a little more about what’s happening and what’s going on, in regard to her treatment.”

Vejil said that his mom has Reno Cell Anemia, cancer of the bone.

A barbecue plate fundraiser will be held from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., Saturday, at the Reeves County Sheriff’s Posse.

Plates will be $6 and deliveries will be made on four or more plates. For orders individuals can call 445-3400.

Carrasco honored for his service to the board

A local man was honored for his service to the Reeves County Hospital District in a ceremony held in San Antonio.

Pablo Carrasco from Reeves County Hospital District has successfully completed the Texas Academy of Governance application for Trustee Recognition.

Carrasco’s application was reviewed and approved for a period of two years, from August 2006 through August 2008.

Recognition was officially conferred on Friday, Aug. 4, during the THT 2006 Summer Forum in San Antonio.

Carrasco attended the ceremony held at the Hyatt Regency in San Antonio.

His achievements also will be announced and celebrated in the Trustee Bulletin and through any opportunities for community news coverage.

Academy recognition reflects not only Carrasco’s commitment to excellence in governance but also provides the people and communities served by Reeves County Hospital District with confidence that your trustees practice the most important aspects of trusteeship - community stewardship, leadership, dedication to effective governance, collaboration, vision, commitment and service.

Carrasco is currently vice-president of the hospital board and secretary and has served on the board for the past four years.

Hilliard graduates Magna Cum Laude

Candace Suzanne Hilliard, a 2002 Pecos High School graduate, has graduated Magna Cum Laude from Texas A&M University.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications.

Presently, Hilliard is the director of the Benjamin Knox Art Gallery in College Station.

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York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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