Permian Problems: Fracking Industry's Promised Land Turns Sour

About the Permian Problems: Fracking Industry's Promised Land Turns Sour Series

The Permian Basin is the largest petroleum-producing basin in the United States, and the U.S. oil and gas industry’s greatest prospect for turning around its financial woes. But the Permian shale basin where oil and gas fracking occurs in Texas and New Mexico is increasingly affected by poor financial conditions, massive flaring and venting pollution, water and wastewater challenges, lax enforcement of regulations, lack of pipeline infrastructure to get gas to market, and a growing number of bankruptcies and worker layoffs. ExxonMobil and Chevron are among the oil supermajors that have bet big on the Permian, as well as BP, Occidental, Shell, and others.

But Wall Street investors and shareholders are increasingly skeptical and nervous. The words “Peak Permian” are already being uttered by many analysts who know that the oil and gas industry has been grossly overcapitalized since the dawn of the shale fracking “revolution.” In recent years, investments have shifted to the western part of the Permian Basin known as the Delaware Basin, where output is much gassier than in the eastern Midland portion, resulting in more flaring and venting of methane, a potent greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.

In this DeSmog series, our team of investigative and multimedia journalists explore the many challenges facing the oil and gas industry in the Permian Basin.

Image: Flaring at oil industry operations in the Permian Basin of Texas. Credit: Justin Hamel © 2020

In This Series

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Ahead of a race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, two new reports document the agency’s failure to track harmful emissions and failing infrastructure.

Ahead of a race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, two new reports document the agency’s failure to track harmful emissions and failing infrastructure.
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In the heart of the Permian oil patch in West Texas, a massive $416 million solar array began converting sunshine to electricity this summer. One of the project’s main financiers has a very familia...
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Yesterday, President Trump left Midland, Texas, after arriving in the state’s Permian oilfield region for a $2,800 a plate luncheon and a “roundtable” that required each participant to pony up $100...
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Penny Aucoin and her husband Carl Dee George have worried about living near oil and gas producing sites in New Mexico's Permian Basin since the sites began springing up near their home six years ag...
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Last Friday, the Iowa Utilities Board issued an order that would allow the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) to double the amount of oil that flows through the state from 550,000 barrels a day to 1.1 m...
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Signs equating patriotism with the oil and gas industry are abundant in the Permian Basin, one of the United States’ most prolific oil and natural gas plays.  There, the messages on billboards, tr...
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ExxonMobil is a company capable of contradictions. It has been lobbying against government efforts to address climate change while running ads touting its own efforts to do so. And while the oil g...
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On March 5, there was a sense of drama and tension unlike in years past as ExxonMobil’s top executives gathered for their annual Investor Day presentation, a highly anticipated event where the oil ...
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Balmorhea, Texas — Less than four years ago, oil and gas company Apache Corp. announced an oil strike worth $80 billion in one of the most pristine reaches of West Texas — the “biggest oil find” of...
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Meaningful regulation of the fracking industry is a non sequitur to Sharon Wilson, organizer for Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project. She supports her em...
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While fracking for oil and gas in the U.S. has contributed to record levels of fossil fuel production, a critical part of that story also involves water. An ongoing battle for this precious resourc...
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Sue and James Franklin run a rock and mineral shop in Balmorhea, Texas, a small picturesque town known for hosting the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. Their shop is about 15 miles from th...
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There is an LED sign at a Chase Bank in downtown Midland, Texas, the heart of the Permian Basin, which quantifies the current oil boom. It alternates between current rig count, the price of oil, an...
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REEVES COUNTY, TEXAS — Travelers crossing the long stretch of arid desert spanning West Texas might stumble across an extraordinarily improbable sight — a tiny teeming wetlands, a sliver of marsh t...
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Midland, Texas — Monarch butterflies, tiny lizards, and a type of grouse known as the lesser prairie chicken all drew close scrutiny from a large gathering of oil and gas executives at the Permian ...