- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A portion of southeastern New Mexico’s oil patch is again among the top 10 fastest growing areas in the nation, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Hobbs area saw its population increase more than 2 percent to nearly 70,000 between July 2013 and July 2014. The area’s population in 2010 was listed as 64,727.

The region includes part of the Permian Basin, which has seen the number of barrels of oil produced each day more than double over the last several years. The boom has led to housing shortages and more traffic throughout southeastern New Mexico.

Lea County, where Hobbs is located, was one of six counties in New Mexico to see a population gain between 2013 and 2014 thanks to shifting migration patterns.

“Lea County is kind of in a boom,” said Jack Baker, a senior research scientist with Geospatial and Population Studies at the University of New Mexico.

While oil production was a big reason for the influx of people, other mining activity also has contributed to the region’s growth, he said.

New Mexico’s remaining counties saw population decreases, with San Juan County in the northwestern corner reporting the biggest drop of nearly 3,500 residents.

Aside from highlighting the growth in southeastern New Mexico’s oil and gas country, the latest figures suggest a continued trend of New Mexico losing population.

Census figures that take into account the number of births and deaths between 2013 and 2014 show eight New Mexico counties gained population, including Lea County. More than a dozen others saw a population drain.

Overall, the net population figures showed the state lost 1,323 people.

“A lot of the exodus is economically related,” said Baker. “The economy is opening up in other places, and people are taking advantage of that.”

Baker described the situation as dynamic, with the potential of people coming and going.

“If the economy takes off, you have the potential of young, educated people coming in,” he said, “but we don’t expect that happening anytime soon.”

Ben Bolender with the Census’ Population Estimates Branch pointed to the Great Recession as one of the examples of the social and economic events that have influenced migration in the U.S. He said the differences are evident between 2006 and the most recent estimates.

Nationally, the data shows people migrating to large metropolitan areas. Where large cities lost people from domestic migration, they gained from international migration, Bolender said in a telephone interview.

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