While there are now fewer active oil rigs than before, there’s still plenty of activity. The highway is awash with industry pickups and “oversize load” semis, while the surrounding landscape is dotted with oil wells, gas flares and signs for “fresh water sales.”
The city has a population around 2,000, although that number can easily double during an oil boom when temporary residents working in fields fill up the man camps and RV parks.
Many of Jal’s permanent residents work in the industry, too. Even the mayor, who is leading the city’s protest of the water applications, has a son who works in the oil fields and a father who worked for El Paso Natural Gas.
“Look, we’re not opposed to fracking,” Aldridge said. “That’s the lifeblood down here.”
Despite the strong ties to oil, some locals are upset about the companies’ plans to pump nearby freshwater supplies.
“It sure seems like they’re an aggressive bunch who feel like their needs outweigh ours,” said Harrell Butler, a retired Jal city and school worker. “It’s a potential danger to our water system out here.”
But Butler acknowledged other local residents don’t feel that way, especially those who work in oil and gas.
“Some people are biased towards the oil field because it pays their way,” he said. “Until the water don’t come out of the tap — what then?”