Fracking in the Permian Basin

Location:

Texas & New Mexico, USA

Project risks:

Environmental Destruction, Social Harm

Companies:

  • Chevron Corporation
  • Pioneer Natural Resources Company
  • EOG Resources Inc
  • Exxon Mobil Corporation
  • Devon Energy Corporation
  • ConocoPhillips
  • Diamondback Energy Inc
  • Occidental Petroleum Corporation
  • Coterra Energy Inc
  • Cimarex Energy Co
  • Endeavour Energy Resources LP
  • Mewbourne Oil Company
  • CrownQuest Operating LLC
  • Ovintiv Inc
  • Matador Resources Company
  • Callon Petroleum Company
  • Primexx Energy Partners Ltd
  • APA Corporation
  • Birch Operations Inc
  • BP plc
  • Tap Rock Resources LLC
  • Laredo Petroleum Inc
  • Kaiser-Francis Oil Company
  • Marathon Oil Corporation
  • SM Energy Company
  • Surge Energy US Holdings Company
  • Grenadier Energy Partners LLC
  • Capitan Energy Inc
  • Centennial Resource Development Inc
  • Sable Permian Resources LLC
  • BTA Oil Producers LLC
  • Colgate Energy LLC
  • Steward Energy LLC
  • Titus Oil & Gas LLC
  • Sequitur Energy Resources LLC
  • Fasken Oil and Ranch Ltd
  • Sinochem Group Co Ltd
  • Ecopetrol SA
  • Advance Energy Partners LLC
  • Earthstone Energy Inc
  • Tracker Resource Development III LLC
  • Summit Petroleum LLC
  • Riley Exploration Permian Inc
  • PetroLegacy Energy II LLC
  • Headington Energy Partners LLC
  • Lime Rock Resources
  • Rosehill Resources Inc
  • Lario Oil & Gas Company
  • Chisholm Energy Holdings LLC
  • Tall City Operations III LLC
  • Henry Resources LLC
  • PRI Operating LLC (Patriot Resources)
  • Permian Deep Rock Oil LLC
  • TPG Capital LP
  • Ring Energy Inc
  • Rio Oil and Gas II LLC
  • PDC Energy Inc
  • Ameredev II LLC
  • Blackbeard Operating LLC
  • Discovery Natural Resources LLC
  • Point Energy Partners
  • Elevation Resources LLC
  • Battalion Oil Corporation
  • APR Operating LLC (Admiral Permian Resources)
  • Discovery Operating Inc
  • Spur Energy Partners LLC
  • UpCurve Energy LLC
  • HighPeak Energy Inc
  • Murchison Oil & Gas LLC
  • Triple Crown Resources LLC
  • Bayswater Exploration and Production LLC
  • Hibernia Resources LLC
  • Caza Petroleum LLC
  • MDC Texas Energy LLC
  • Legacy Reserves Inc
  • Northern Oil and Gas Inc
  • Zarvona Energy LLC
  • Foreland Resources LLC
  • FireBird Energy LLC
  • Gordy Oil Co Inc
  • Independence Energy LLC
  • Hannathon Petroleum LLC
  • Contango Oil & Gas Company
  • Grizzly Energy LLC
  • 1920 Energy LLC
  • CP Exploration III LLC
  • United Production Partners Inc
  • Scout Energy Partners
  • Abraxas Petroleum Corporation
  • Sheridan Production Company LLC
  • Urban Oil & Gas Group LLC
  • EnerVest Ltd
  • Plains GP Holdings LP
  • Energy Transfer LP
  • Targa Resources Corp
  • Enterprise Products Partners LP
  • ONEOK Inc
  • Kinder Morgan Inc
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approximate location

Everything is Bigger in the Permian Basin

In the Permian Basin, almost everything bad about fracking takes on new dimensions. The landscape, the towns, the schools and the air all bear witness to the negative effects of the United States oil and gas boom. Since 2014, the United States has been the largest producer of hydrocarbons worldwide. Fracking made it possible.[1][2] In the country’s largest fracking region, the Permian Basin, the catastrophic consequences of the fracking spree for people and nature are omnipresent.

Barely an acre of land in the Permian Basin has been left untouched by oil and gas companies.[3] The Permian Basin is a region the size of Great Britain.[4] It stretches across western Texas and southeastern New Mexico.[5] Bobbing pump jacks, processing plants, oil and wastewater storage tanks, compressor stations, artificial waste pits, frack sand mines and dirt roads are everywhere.[6][7] Corridors for underground pipelines create vast strips of barren land that vanish into the horizon.[8]

The Permian Basin stretches over an area the size of Great Britain. Credit: formulanone, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

265 million years ago, the Permian Basin lay underwater. It was a flourishing coral reef.[9] Today, the Permian is a desert.[10] However, traces of the coral reef remain. The organisms that once lived there have transformed into enormous deposits of oil and gas.[11] In 2019, the Permian Basin became the most productive oil region in the world.[12] Until then, Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar field was the largest oil producing region.[13] Currently, over 100 companies extract oil and gas in the Permian.[14] If they continue business as usual, hydrocarbons production in the Permian Basin will increase by 47% until 2030.[15]

To get to the oil in the Permian Basin, companies like Pioneer Natural Resources, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, EOG Resources, Exxon and ConocoPhillips almost always use fracking. Fracking is an extremely destructive, unconventional way of extracting oil and gas which is otherwise not extractable. 83% of all fracking worldwide takes place in the US.[16] The largest US fracking regions are Haynesville in Texas and Louisiana, the Appalachian Basin in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio and the Permian Basin in New Mexico and Texas.[17] The Permian Basin is the largest of them all.[18]

The companies in the Permian Basin use fracking because the oil and gas is trapped underground in compressed layers of shale.[19] To crack open the shale, the companies have drilled tens of thousands of fracking wells.[20] They pump truckloads of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to release the oil and gas.[21] One single fracking well can use up to 42,500,000 liters (11,227,312 gallons) of water and up to 14,514,955 kg (32,000,000 lbs) of sand.[22][23] For a single barrel of fracked oil, the companies produce about 4 to 7 barrels of toxic wastewater.[24] The companies dispose of the wastewater in different ways. In some cases, they store it in open pits. These pits frequently leak and contaminate groundwater. Often, the companies inject the wastewater back into the ground.[25][26] The pressure from the injected wastewater can cause earthquakes.[27][28][29] On the Texas side of the Permian Basin alone, earthquakes increased from 47 in 2017 to 337 in 2020.[30]

A Network of Pollution

The companies transport a lot of the oil and gas from the Permian Basin to the Texas Gulf Coast.[31] From there, a never-ending stream of cargo ships transports it out into the world.[32] However, the companies are producing too much oil and gas too fast. They are running out of pipelines to carry it all to the Gulf Coast.[33] So, the companies are building more pipelines, oil export terminals, liquefied fossil gas (LNG) terminals, gas processing plants and petrochemical complexes as fast as they can, but they still can’t keep up.[34][35][36][37]

The companies are racing to build more oil and gas infrastructure. Credit: Julie Dermansky

The climate impact of Permian oil and gas is even greater than that of coal.[38] The lower the gas price, the less attractive the gas becomes for the Permian producers.[39] Pioneer Natural Resources, Chevron and the other Permian producers simply burn off (flare) the gas they don’t want.[40] As a result, a constant flow of smoke, flames and large amounts of carbon dioxide is pouring into the air.[41] Sometimes however, the gas simply streams (vents) into the atmosphere without burning.[42] Gas consists mostly of methane, so the companies are actually emitting almost pure methane into the air.[43] Over a period of 20 years, methane is 86 times worse for global warming than carbon dioxide.[44] In 2020, researchers found that the Permian Basin has a 60% higher methane leakage rate than other US oil and gas regions.[45]

Constant flaring of gas causes massive CO2 emissions and lights up the sky day and night. Credit: acritely_photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Taking its Toll on the People

Over 2 million people live in the middle of the seemingly endless expanse of oil and gas infrastructure in the Permian Basin.[46] Many can see the wells from their kitchen window.[47] Flaring stacks are everywhere. They shoot flames into the air day and night, so it never really gets dark.[48] Sulfurous gas from the extraction sites leaves a heavy stench in the air.[49] It smells like rotten eggs.[50] Sometimes, the smell is so bad, people can’t go outside.[51] Many wake up with headaches every day, have difficulties breathing or suffer nausea and dizziness.[52][53]

When there is an accident, the local people pay the price. In January 2020, a wastewater pipeline in Carlsbad, New Mexico burst in the middle of the night across the street from a family’s home.[54] Wastewater is full of salt, toxic chemicals, oil, grease and radioactive minerals.[55] When the pipeline in Carlsbad exploded, this poisonous brew rained down on the family’s home.[56] As they tried to rescue their animals, they were drenched in wastewater.[57] Both grownups and children developed rashes and pustules on their skin.[58] Their efforts to save their animals were not successful and the family had to kill their chickens, dog and goat.[59] They couldn’t even eat their homegrown food anymore.[60]

Over 2 million people live in the middle of the oil and gas spree. Credit: Julie Dermansky

The oil boom is transforming the Permian’s towns and cities in almost all thinkable ways. Thousands of workers are moving into the region to work the drilling rigs and build pipelines to transport the oil out of the Permian.[61] The influx of temporary workers is a challenge for the small towns.[62] Rates of theft, drug use and sexual violence are rising.[63] Rents rose by 65% between 2010 and 2018.[64] Hospitals don’t have enough doctors.[65] Schools are too small to accommodate the many children that are moving into the oil region with their parents.[66] The Permian High School in Odessa, for example, has space for 2,500 children. As of the academic year 2021/2022, 3,789 students attend the school.[67] Many children don’t even have a chair or desk.[68] In addition, schools are struggling to find new staff as teachers leave for higher-paying jobs in the oil industry or move to more affordable regions.[69]

The people of the Permian Basin are sick and tired of the oil and gas companies. Countless groups and NGOs are protesting against the different aspects of the Permian’s fracking spree. In the Permian Basin itself, civil society groups rally against the companies’ expansion plans.[70] Around the Permian, other groups oppose the construction of pipelines that would transport Permian oil and gas.[71] And along the Gulf Coast, still other groups fight oil and gas export terminals and petrochemical facilities.[72][73] In reaction to the protests, the state of Texas passed a new law in 2019.[74] Since then, protesters can get 2 years in prison alone for the intent of blocking a pipeline.[75] The use of the vague term “intent” in the law means all opposition against oil and gas production has become more risky.

Since the companies and regional governments do not listen to them, local communities, indigenous groups, activists and NGOs have also taken their fight abroad.[76] Together with Swedish activists, they pressured the Swedish government into cancelling a proposed liquefied fossil gas (LNG) import terminal.[77][78] This terminal was supposed to import fracked gas from the US.[79] Their plan: If nobody buys the Permian’s dirty fossil fuels, the companies will stop producing them.[80] Increasingly, the activists are targeting the financiers of the companies that destroy their health and livelihoods.[81]

In Sweden, activists successfully protested against Gothenburg LNG, a fossil gas terminal that would have imported fracked gas from the US. Credit: Jana Eriksson

Yet, oil and gas companies remain on expansion course in the Permian Basin. They continue to plaster New Mexico and Texas with more and more oil and gas drilling rigs, waste pools, flaring stacks and pipelines. They will continue to pollute the environment, cause earthquakes, accidents and health problems. The companies do not care if hospitals and schools are too small or housing prices too high. The only way to avoid the negative effects of Permian Basin fracking is to leave the oil and gas in the ground.

Check out the video: Permian Climate Bomb


Groups like Oil Change International are spreading the word on the disastrous effects of oil & gas extraction in the Permian Basin.

Groups working on the Permian Basin: Earthworks, Oil Change International, Society of Native Nations, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Western Environmental Law Center, Waterkeeper Alliance, Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA), New Energy Economy, Wilderness Society, Environmental Defense Fund, IEEFA, Gardendale Accountability Project, Environment Texas, Society of Native Nations, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Fractracker Alliance, Conservation Voters of New Mexico, New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, Carlsbad-based Citizens Caring for the Future, Health Action New Mexico, New Mexico Environmental Law Center, New Mexico Voice for the Children, Progress Now New Mexico, 350 New Mexico, 350 Santa Fe, Climate Advocates Voces Unidas (CAVU), Big Bend Defense Coalition, Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water in Freeport, Texas, Port Arthur Community Action Network (PACAN), San Juan Citizens Alliance, Greenpeace USA

Further Resources:

https://www.permianclimatebomb.org

Sources:
[1] Rystad UCube, September 2021
[14] Rystad UCube, September 2021
[15] Rystad UCube, September 2021
[16] Rystad UCube, September 2021
[17] Rystad UCube, September 2021 (Resources)
[18] Rystad UCube, September 2021 (Resources)
[30] https://www.beg.utexas.edu/texnet-cisr/texnet/earthquake-catalog (considered are earthquakes of a magnitude of 2.5 on the Richter Scale or more)