The drive west into Hobbs, New Mexico — a city of about 45,000 just over the line from Texas — takes you past the typical array of chain retailers and restaurants, as well as a row of newer hotels on State Highway 18. At first glance, it looks like any one of the countless similar pockets of development across the country. Except the hotels are largely empty, offering rooms at steep discounts. And traffic in general seems sparse despite all the new construction.
It wasn't always this way.
Hobbs is an oil town, anchoring New Mexico's portion of the Permian Basin — the nation's most prolific oil producing area, according to the Energy Department, made even more productive by new technologies like horizontal drilling and fracking. Two years ago, when crude prices topped $100 per barrel, the boom in Hobbs was something to behold.
"You couldn't get a hotel room, and if you could get one, they'd be $250 a night," said Mayor Sam Cobb.