Permian Basin

Also known as the West Texas basin, the Permian Basin is an expansive sedimentary area which is renowned for its rich potassium and fossil fuel deposits. Given its importance, it has become one of the most analyzed sedimentary basins in the world.

Where is Permian Basin

The Permian basin is located in the Southeastern region of New Mexico, and the Western part of Texas. It spans the area between Southern Lubbock and Odessa, continuing towards New Mexico. In terms of dimension, it covers an area that is 300 miles long and 250 miles wide.

The Permian Basin is not a singular formation, but a collection of 3 major individual basins: The Central Basin Platform, the Eastern Midland Basin, and the Western Delaware Basin.
On its Northern, Eastern and Western borders, the Permian basin is surrounded by Cratonic platforms which are constantly accumulating fluvial, marine and eolian –carried sediments. On its Southern side, the Permian Basin is bordered by the marine Val Verde Basin.

History and Formation

It may not feel like it, but the Earth is actually moving underneath your feet. Thanks to advances in geology, we now know that the planet’s crust is made from massive land chunks called tectonic plates. Because we live on an active planet that still has residual heat from its formation, tectonic plates are not stagnant. Similar to gigantic rafts, each plate is floating atop layers of viscous, molten rock.

This geologic activity happens at a very slow speed, close to the rate at which human fingernails grow. Tectonic drift has shaped our past, and it will determine our future. It constantly reforms and recycles our world, drawing new boundaries for continents, seas, and oceans.
Knowing this surprising fact, we can now understand why the Permian Basin can be found in parts of New Mexico and Texas. Despite the fact that these areas seem quite dry today, a quick trip to the past would reveal a totally different environment.

The Permian Age was a geological period which occurred about 299 million to 251 million years ago. Although the Permian basin was thought to have originated during this period, evidence suggests that it was formed much earlier during the Paleozoic era.
In the earliest parts of the Paleozoic, the region was covered by warm, shallow seas. Life thrived in this hospitable environment, depositing organic remains in sedimentary layers. However, the modern basin’s structure was formed during periods of intense geologic activity called Orogenies: Alleghenian, Ouachita, and Marathon. These types of movements are responsible for the formation of mountains, and the current Permian’s layout.

The 3 main basin structures persisted through the Carboniferous, Permian and Triassic ages. In terms of elevation, the Eastern Midland Basin and the Western Delaware Basin were much lower. This meant that the area accumulated dark, organic-rich, deep water deposits and minerals, which would later form important crude oil sources.

The Central Basin was much higher than its counterparts. As a consequence, it has accumulated sediments from shallow waters, resulting in the formation of local reefs. These formations would later house some important crude oil reservoirs.

Why is the Permian Basin Significant?

As a source of fossil fuels, the Permian Basin has forever changed the U.S. economy. In fact, the nation’s oil production has been rapidly increasing due to this area’s yield. In 2012, America’s oil production was at an average of 6.5 million barrels per day. In 2014, that number has climbed to 8.1 million barrels per day. From the Permian basin alone, approximately 2.1 million barrels per day were extracted in 2014. If the U.S. Energy Information Administration is correct, a quarter of the country’s yield comes from this area.

Although regional exploitation had occurred, certain oil and natural gas reserves remained untapped for decades. Currently, the discovery of new extraction methods has turned the Permian basin into a black gold mine. Alternative drilling methods allow companies to access deposits of dense, non-porous mud stone that traps hydrocarbon deposits.

Companies with assets in the Permian basin have seen an increase in their bottom line. In addition, the constant exploitation creates many employment opportunities in the area. From transportation to processing and refining, these fossil fuel reserves are stimulating both the local and national economy.

The constant influx of crude oil has somewhat devalued petroleum, given that price is often driven by scarcity. However, the market value of finished petroleum products remains constant.

Permian Basin Oil Fields

About one tenth of the extracted Permian crude oil originates from Pennsylvania carbonates. The primary deposits can be found in the Eastern and Northwestern Shelves, the Central Basin Platform, and the Delaware Basin Sandstone. Dolomite, limestone and sandstone deposits usually contain the lion’s share of crude oil reserves.
However, alternative methods have expanded the drilling into areas where it was not possible before. For example, the Wolfcamp formation hosts a deposit of dense, tight oil shale rock.

Permian Basin Drilling

Traditional drilling methods are sufficient when exploiting porous sedimentary rocks such as sandstone. However, shale is tougher and more dense, requiring alternative drilling methods such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Horizontal drilling aims to increase the section exposure and surface area of the well by placing it horizontally. Vertical drilling can be impossible, if the basin is situated under an inhabited or restrictive area.
Hydraulic fracturing uses fluid in order to expose and exploit cracks in the sedimentary rocks. Mostly water is used, however, it can often contain chemicals that facilitate the fracturing process. Even small, incompressible pellets are used in order to maintain the structural integrity of fissures.

Using traditional drilling and extraction methods, coupled with fracking and horizontal drilling, companies are able to access vast reserves of crude petroleum. The benefits speak for themselves, as the circulation of such a valuable resource can construct a stable local economy. In addition, the Permian basin contributes to the nation’s initiative of renouncing its dependence on foreign oil.
With high employment, political stability and an increased GDP on the table, it would be hard to ignore the contribution of this region. A modern-day gold rush is underway, and the fervor will not die out soon.