Permian Strategic Partnership (PSP) – Nineteen oil and gas companies came together in 2018 and pledged $100 million to help Permian Basin communities.
There is something about getting older — age brings experience, which can often appear to be wisdom. Wisdom can also come from intelligence and education. But, in the end, older folks who might not have much formal education and might not score well on a standardized test can still come across as wise. Age provides a long view that can only come as a result of having lived through certain times and events.
I graduated from law school and became a licensed lawyer in 1984. Since that time, there have been no fewer than six “busts” in the crude oil market. I can remember a local Rolls Royce dealership in Midland advertising in the 1980s something about buying a new Rolls Royce and they would throw in a new jet airplane — or vice versa. It was so over the top that it was hard to comprehend the actual offer. That, of course, happened during one of the “boom” times. A bust came along not too much later, and hard lessons had to be learned all over again. A local steak restaurant was opened in Midland shortly thereafter; it was called “Tanstaafl.” Everyone assumed it was owned by someone from the Middle East, and that was his last name. It turned out that it was an acronym for “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Ain’t it the truth!
The boom-bust cycle is as much a part of the oil and gas business as gushers and dry holes. People in the business know that it’s going to happen. It’s a global commodity that is influenced by an endless list of factors, most of which are as unpredictable as the weather in West Texas.
It has always been a part of the industry, and companies have had to learn how to adapt or die. I remember in my final interview with ARCO Oil & Gas Company’s general counsel for a job in their legal department in 1987, he boasted about how ARCO had reduced headcount through its generous early-retirement program and taken other aggressive budget-tightening steps to be able to turn a profit at $10 a barrel crude oil prices.
The other repeat victims of the boom-bust cycle have been the towns that live and die with the price of crude oil. Midland has been the perennial poster child for the great times during booms and the barren times during busts. Oilmen spent like drunken sailors when prices were high; but when the busts came, they filed bankruptcy and/or packed up and left town. As a result, it was always hard for Midland to ever get traction and enjoy any kind of sustained growth.
When the 2015 bust arrived, it was expected by those living in Midland that the industry would once again pack up and head for higher ground and return one day in the future when crude prices recovered. Instead, not only did no one leave, they doubled down and declared their intentions to stay for the long term. Concho was in the middle of building a huge campus for their employees. Instead of stopping construction when the bust hit, they didn’t miss a beat because they saw something this time that hadn’t been present in past busts. Chevron laid off employees at their offices around the world; everywhere but in Midland. Anadarko decided to build a new office complex in Midland. Everyone who was already in Midland at the time stayed; those who were making plans to build a presence in Midland came anyway. What was different this time?
The massive reserves that have been confirmed in the tight-shale formations in the Permian Basin that are now accessible by hydraulic fracturing and economic because of horizontal well technology showed these companies that there is more than enough reason to plant roots in Midland-Odessa, throughout the Permian Basin, and into New Mexico in Hobbs, Carlsbad, and Lovington. Those kinds of reserves justify long term commitment and weathering the periodic downturns in crude prices.
Once it became apparent that the industry was staying, it also became obvious that the local infrastructure had never had to grow during the previous booms because the excess population had always left during the busts, so there had been no reason to invest in expanding roads, schools, hospitals, and the other needs of a growing urban area. And, knowing how slow governmental entities are to respond to such things, the oil and gas industry realized that more would have to be done faster to attract the employee population these companies would need to succeed.
The result was the creation of the Permian Strategic Partnership. Nineteen oil and gas companies came together in 2018 and pledged $100 million to help Permian Basin communities build the infrastructure for the area to be able to support the natural resource economic engine that began one hundred years ago and is more prolific now than ever before. The member companies are Apache, BPX Energy, Chevron, Cimarex, Concho, ConocoPhillips, Devon, Diamondback, Endeavor, EOG Resources, Halliburton, Occidental, Ovintiv, Parsley Energy, Pioneer, Plains All American, Schlumberger, Shell, and XTO Energy.
In less than two years, the PSP has already committed $16.5 million, in conjunction with other area donors, for a total of $55 million to enlist IDEA charter schools to open 14 schools at seven sites across Midland and Odessa by the 2024-25 school year. These schools are expected to add nearly 10,000 quality seats to the two cities by 2030.
The PSP has committed $10 million of the $50 million total to be put towards the Hobbs, New Mexico public school system’s plan to help fund construction and development of a new technical education high school to serve a growing number of students and better prepare them for technical jobs available across the Permian region.
The PSP has also partnered with other area organizations to provide professional grant writing, management, and training expertise to local governments, school districts, and non-profits by providing $250,000 each to Lea and Eddy Counties in New Mexico to strengthen their ability to successfully compete for state, federal, and private grant programs.
In January, the PSP announced that it is making a $5.9 million contribution to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine to expand healthcare resources to Permian Basin communities. Working in a predominantly underserved area, Texas Tech trains and encourages medical residents to plant their roots in West Texas. And the PSP is just getting started.
This is an unprecedented commitment by an industry that is not planning to pack up and leave when the next bust comes along. With that kind of long term commitment, the Permian Basin has an incredibly bright future ahead.
About the author: Bill Keffer is a contributing columnist to SHALE Oil & Gas Business Magazine. He teaches at the Texas Tech University School of Law and continues to consult. He also served in the Texas Legislature from 2003 to 2007.