The good news seems to come in bursts of $100 million — or more.
Last year, Encana said it expected to invest about $100 million in the San Juan Basin, which was about the same as the year before.
Then, in November, Encana said its investment in the basin would grow to between $350 million and $400 million in 2014.
And last week, a private investment company committed $100 million to LOGOS Resources, a Farmington-based drilling company, for oil exploration and production in the basin.
The money is mostly dedicated to shale-oil plays. And early reports from operating wells indicate they are producing enough to be economically viable.
Shale oil could be a lifesaver for this region's economy. The basin is known for natural-gas production. But natural gas is relatively cheap, seasonal spikes notwithstanding. And part of the reason for that is what some describe as a 100-year reserve.
That means the moneymaker is oil.
New technology — advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, in particular — have made it possible to develop numerous plays in the United States that have significantly boosted the nation's production
In December, Bloomberg News reported that crude oil production was at its highest level in 25 years, mainly due to "a shale drilling boom in states such as Texas and North Dakota." It also stated that the boom is pushing the nation ever closer to energy independence.
So it's hard not to get caught up in the idea that the northwest corner of New Mexico might become a part of that boom. It's on people's minds. Even the Farmington school district was considering what that might mean for its aging infrastructure as it asked voters to approve a new $35 million bond proposal, which voters did.
(The proposal was trimmed to mostly meet current needs and those of the immediate future, but officials said the expansions would provide more flexibility in dealing with a sudden influx of students.)
And there are concerns about stresses on city and county services and whether there is adequate housing.
We understand the strong desire to believe in the dream. And there are strong indications that there are good things to come. But the oil and gas industry is notorious for boom and bust cycles.
Human nature is such that a rush of oil-related economic activity could easily wash away the sensible urgency toward creating a more diverse economic base.
Ray Hagerman, Four Corners Economic Development CEO, has talked about plans to boost oil-and-gas industry related manufacturing, which will require a freight rail connection. That makes sense.
And he has talked about finding other industries that would be a symbiotic match for the region's resources, human and natural, and that would create an enduring magnet for businesses that pay well.
Assuming the boom arrives, it won't last forever. If the San Juan Basin shale-oil plays dry up or the price of oil drops significantly as production increases, the region would find itself in the same bust cycle it now struggles to shake off.
We don't mean to kill optimism before it can even take hold. We hope there is an oil boom. But if it does come, we urge civic leaders to keep a broad perspective and continue to work diligently toward economic diversification.
Americans seem to be developing ever shorter attention spans, and Four Corners residents don't seem to be bucking the trend. That doesn't allow for long-range planning.
If there is wealth produced by a boom, some of it should be invested to ensure a less bumpy future.