January 17, 2019 / 6:02 PM / a year ago

Ex-U.S. commerce secretary to lead group to help Permian residents

FILE PHOTO: A drilling crew moves drill pipe into place on an oil rig in the Permian Basin near Wink, Texas U.S. August 22, 2018. Picture taken August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. Commerce Secretary and energy executive Don Evans will chair a partnership of top energy companies that have pledged $100 million toward easing the civic strain of the shale oil and gas boom in West Texas and New Mexico, the group said on Thursday.

The Permian Strategic Partnership was formed late last year to ease the strain on health care, education, housing and the workforce created by companies flocking to the Permian Basin. Its 19 members include Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum Corp, Pioneer Natural Resources and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

The nation’s largest oil field is expected to pump 3.8 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) this month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Evans, who started his career working on a rig for Tom Brown Inc and eventually became its chief executive, served as commerce secretary during the administration of former President George W. Bush. He is a longtime resident of Midland, Texas, where the partnership will be based.

Restaurants, local governments and other employers in the area have come under pressure with staff leaving for oilfield jobs. Midland’s unemployment rate was 2.1 percent in October, compared to the nation’s 3.7 percent rate.

The last decade’s shale boom has led to school overcrowding, soaring traffic fatalities, drug abuse and strains on the power grid.

The region needs more pediatricians, better schools and affordable housing to attract families, Evans said. While oil and gas workers can afford rising rents, “it’s the teachers and nurses and other support services that you need in any community that it’s tough on,” he added.

The partnership has started holding community meetings in the region and is still recruiting staff. It has no timetable or plan yet on how to spend the initial $100 million contribution, though Evans said the group is set up to receive and consider grant applications.

Reporting by Jennifer Hiller; editing by Phil Berlowitz and Richard Chang

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