In a year when nearly all aspects of life were affected in some way by COVID-19, the impact on the oil industry in Karnes County and throughout the Eagle Ford Shale region provided an economic jolt that had a big impact on the area’s economy.
In listing a top five stories for the Karnes Countywide for 2020, the oil industry’s ability to weather the storm, and its immediate impact on other businesses, is ranked as the No. 1 story of the year.
While a world pandemic undoubtedly was the major factor in the oil industry’s challenges, an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia also played a major role in the drop of oil prices.
“These are clearly unprecedented times in the oil patch,” said Ovintiv Services Communications Director Cindy Hassler.
“All companies are feeling the impact of decreased demand for oil and significantly lower oil prices. We are fortunate that 70 percent of our oil and gas volumes for 2020 are hedged. This provides a cushion for cash flows and time to react and readjust our activity levels.”
Marathon Oil announced an immediate $500 million capital spending reduction relative to its previously announced 2020 budget of $2.4 billion.
It didn’t take long for the reduction in oil and gas production to impact local businesses.
“Sixty to 70 percent of our guests are in the oil-field industry,” said Karnes City Lodge General Manager Neil Patel, which like many other businesses was forced to cut hourly employees and reduce services to help stay afloat.
Schools close, adjust, reopen
What started as an extended spring break for Karnes County schools resulted in a switch from traditional learning in classrooms to remote learning, a cancelation of the spring sports season and significant adjustments to the fall season, and continuous adjustments throughout the school year.
The Falls City, Karnes City, Kenedy and Runge school districts each endured unprecedented upheaval both during the spring and fall semesters. And while in-person learning was discontinued by mid-March for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school years, cafeteria workers continued to provide food services for area children via pickup lines.
While spring sports and other University Interscholastic League events were abruptly stopped because of COVID-19, fall sports were allowed to proceed with major adjustments, which included constant COVID-19 monitoring, schedule changes and reduced attendance allowed at events.
A spike in COVID-19 rates late in the fall semester resulted in many schools returning to remote learning, as flexibility became an even more crucial component for education.
Through it all, school districts remained a backbone of the community in providing help.
“I’m proud to say we are taking care of essential needs such as nutrition with two meals a day,” said KCISD Superintendent Hector Madrigal. “That gives parents something less to stress about.”
“It is hard to pick (just) one thing to be proud of in Falls City at this time,” said FCISD Superintendent Todd Pawelek. “At the end of the day, we are there for each other and between the school and parents our kids are continuing their education from the safety of their own homes. Even with the distance between the teachers and students right now, they know Falls City ISD is still here for them and cares. Our teachers and our paraprofessionals are amazing and doing what they need to make sure our kids are always taken care of each day.”
Escondido Creek Parkway opens
A crown jewel for outdoor activity for the area and a joint partnership between the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) and local entities, Escondido Creek Parkway officially opened to the public in October.
The park features strong recreational and educational components, including a commemoration of Kenedy as the Horned Toad Capital of Texas, a 10-foot wide, mile long hike and bike trail, skate park, splash pad and large pavilion for public gatherings.
This was the seventh park in the SARA system. “This park has many more amenities than other parks,” said SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott. “It will appeal to a variety of users because of the amenities.”
Festivals, events canceled, altered
While the Karnes City Youth Livestock Show and Kenedy’s Bluebonnet Days Festival both had the good fortune of being scheduled before the brunt of COVID-19 related cancellations, many other events were either not held in 2020 or were significantly altered.
Among those events was the 112th Holy Trinity Labor Day Picnic in Karnes City.
“I don’t think it’s ever been canceled,” a Holy Trinity secretary said. “A couple of years ago, one of the hurricanes came in a week before our picnic, but that was it.”
In 2019, a total of 5,048 plates were served at the event. The next picnic is scheduled for Sept. 5, 2021.
Holiday events to celebrate Christmas both at the Kenedy’s Joe Gulley City park and at Otto Kaiser Memorial Hospital were changed for safety precautions.
Both events were converted from a more traditional setting to a drive-through format, but they were held, nonetheless.
Veterans Day programs were held on Nov. 11 and the Wreaths Across America ceremony still took place on Dec. 19.
Polish Heritage Center to open
A celebration of the area’s heritage will be showcased at the Polish Heritage Center in Panna Maria, with the opening planned for sometime in early 2021.
The $14 million project started in 2011 and had been slated for an October 2020 debut.
When the 16,000 square foot facility opens, it will shine the spotlight on the area’s strong Polish-American connection, and recognize Panna Maria’s importance as oldest Polish-American settlement in the United States.
The long-awaited center, designed by Steve Harding, will feature a 30-minute movie highlighting Father Leopold Moczygemba’s leading of Polish settlers to South Texas and keep vibrant and relevant the history, values, beliefs, customs and traditions of the Polish settlers and their descendants ... and to inspire, engage and educate our visitors.”
Once the facility opens and showcases the legacy of the Polish-Texas connection, it is sure to be one of the top events of 2021.