An old American TV show—the Beverly Hillbillies, opens with a song that tells the story of the miraculous transition from the poor hills of Appalachia to the mansions of Beverly Hills. The song includes this verse: “And up through the ground came a bubblin’ crude. Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.” We can change the words a little to: “Oil that is, olive oil…”
Shale oil and natural gas was supposed to establish America as an oil producer and wean it off the Middle East oil cartel. But, things have taken a turn for the worse, souring America’s dream for energy independence. Oil prices have fallen from $110 a barrel in the middle of 2014 to below $50 per barrel by the end of summer. Shale oil is not profitable unless the price is at least $50 per barrel. For Steve Coffman, who lives in the center of what was the fracking boom in Texas, his 40 acres of olive trees, planted two years ago, offer enthusiastic hope for a future that he once pinned on his shale oil wells.
It took only five years to go from boom to bust in Texas, but Texans have always been innovative, and now shale oil wildcatters are pinning their hopes on olive oil. According to industry data, Americans are among the largest consumers of olive oil, yet virtually none of it is produced domestically. 97%–$1.1 billion—of the olive oil found on store shelves is imported from Europe, primarily Spain and Italy.
Now, when you think of Texas, you don’t think of olive trees. Usually pictures of cattle, rodeos, and of course, oil wells come to mind. But, enterprising farmers are changing not only attitudes but also the landscape. So far, about 70 farmers have turned their eyes up from oil in the ground to oil on the trees, hoping to cash in on this new commodity. In 2013, 500,000 olive trees were planted, and it is expected that by the end of next year, there will be two million.
Jim Henry was one of the first in Texas to plant olive trees. He is quick to point out that olive oil is not going to replace crude oil. His Texas Olive Ranch produces 100% Pure Texas Extra Virgin Olive Oil, with a Texan twist, of course—smoky, hot & spicy. Henry says that Texas is not the best environment for growing olives, but since his wells are not performing as they were previously due to the downward spiral of oil prices, it is worth it to him to put in the effort to plant and nurture his olive groves. Plus, he says they are more pleasing to the eye.