Ghost towns in shale plays back from the dead. Will they last?

“Ghost towns may not stay dead with oil nearby, but when energy money leaves, warmer places are likelier to survive.”

I recently read an interesting article that former ghost town Helena, Texas is back from the dead thanks to the shale boom. For anyone that visits these shale plays in Texas, and similarly in North Dakota, its quite obvious how overwhelmed little towns previously left for dead are at accommodating the population boom. Do the community leaders and entrepreneurs build out infrastructure made to last, or just try to weather the storm? The answer, obviously, depends on how long the interlopers stay.

The phrase “ghost town” conjures images of rolling tumbleweed, shattered wooden storefronts, and deserted streets. One almost expects to see a spirit rising up out of a dry well or haunting the saloon where, perhaps, it died in a bar fight. The one thing you don’t expect is to hear that the ghost town is making a rebound and doin’ fine.

Yet that’s exactly what’s happening in North Dakota and Texas. The discovery of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota has led to a resurgence of economic activity in the area that has brought at least one town out of retirement and may soon entice others to follow. In southern Texas, the Eagle Ford Shale has contrived a similar renaissance among ghost towns such as Helena.

In both cases, the discovery of oil has kicked off a flurry of building and rebuilding. Construction workers are putting up new residences as fast as they can in North Dakota, and in Texas, local families are donating portions of their oil wealth to the restoration of historic buildings.

Slowly, amenities return to areas where once there were none, using as interim power sources things like the diesel generator or the caterpillar generator. With the current growth, companies can afford to invest in frontrunner technologies such as the natural gas engine for their heavy machinery. All things considered, it looks as though everything’s coming up roses in these ghost towns – but is it?

Maybe. The unfortunate thing about ghost towns is that, well, they came from somewhere. The lessons of the past are there for the taking: a boomtown may not always fall on good times, and energy companies are unfortunately not in the habit of handing out golden parachutes to workers. When the oil runs dry, the town may too such as Palisade, CO in 1974.

In states known for their cold, barren, inhospitable nature, such as North Dakota, the prospects may be considerably grimmer than for those located in warmer climes. The example is nowhere clearer than in the cases of Dore and Helena, two ghost towns now seeing revival.

While Dore is a freezing, teeny town in the middle-of-nowhere of North Dakota, formerly containing only two residents, it is growing. One cannot help but assume, however, that when the oil leaves, so will its new inhabitants. Helena, on the other hand, has the benefits of San Antonia nearby and glorious gulf weather to recommend it. Only time will tell, but prospects look brighter for former ghost towns in southern climes.