In the fall of 2017, Sean Mitchell and John Daniel thought it would be fun to invite some of their investment banking clients to Midland so they could see the fracking boom up close. As part of the gathering, Mitchell and Daniel, managing directors at Houston-based Simmons Energy, planned to fire up the smoker and host a barbecue. They expected that about fifty people would show up. But this was the Permian Basin, the hottest oil and gas play in the world, and nothing happens on a small scale. Two hundred and fifty people turned out.
It was such a hit that Mitchell and Daniel decided to do it again this past October. But this time the barbecue was refashioned as a cookoff, and attendance more than tripled: eight hundred people came to the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum to sample the wares of 37 oil field service companies vying for a gold cup trophy. Smokers and elaborate trailers circled behind the building in the shadows of historic drilling rigs while guests mingled, listened to live country music, and indulged in beer and cuisine that went far beyond the brisket and ribs that were the focus of the competition—gumbo, barbecued bologna, and pretty much anything that could be wrapped in bacon. CNBC’s Brian Sullivan showed up with a film crew, attendees came from as far away as Montreal, and Cudd Energy Services won the big prize for its succulent brisket.
In the span of one year, Mitchell’s small gathering had ballooned into Woodstock for frackers, the people at the forefront of the hydraulic fracturing industry, which has excavated billions of barrels of oil that were once considered inaccessible. “It’s become so important because shale in the Permian Basin is where it’s at,” said Josh Lowrey, the president and CEO of Houston’s Galtway Marketing, who was on his way to check out the brisket at the ValTek trailer. He noted that some of his clients have pulled out of large industry trade shows like the Offshore Technology Conference to attend Mitchell’s barbecue and other Permian-focused gatherings.
These are good times in Mid-land and across the Permian Basin, the most prolific oil field in North America and second in the world behind Saudi Arabia’s massive Ghawar Field. Over the past two years, production from the Permian, which stretches south from Lubbock almost to the Rio Grande and west from San Angelo to New Mexico, has soared from just over 2 million barrels a day to more than 3.6 million.
This wasn’t the scenario people envisioned as recently as three years ago. In early 2016 oil prices slid from the 2014 high of $107 to below $30 a barrel, ending the first national shale boom. At the time, the Permian was a decades-old oil field that was regarded as an also-ran. “This was a worn-out basin,” said Malone Mitchell III, a Dallas oilman who made his first fortune in the Permian when he sold his company in 2006. The hottest plays were the Bakken, in North Dakota, and the Eagle Ford, in South Texas, where production from new wells was about triple those being drilled in the Permian.
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