MIDLAND BASIN | PERMIAN

A Comprehensive Guide to the Permian’s Midland Basin, Featuring Subsurface information, Regional Facts & Statistics

WHAT IS THE MIDLAND BASIN?

The Midland Basin boasts the first discovery well and first commercial well of the Permian Basin.  Its geology can be thought of as a mirror image of the Delaware, dipping towards the west where it is bounded by the Central Basin Platform.  The basin is shallower and less overpressured compared to the Delaware, even along its axis, and is not as pervasively faulted as its western analogue. Similar to the Delaware, historical development focused on shallower detrital sandstone and carbonate targets sourced from the basin’s peripheral features and deposited during Early Permian Epoch, referred to as the Spraberry group in the Midland.  Modern development in the basin is focused on the organic-rich units within the Wolfcamp and Spraberry groups.  Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies effectively quadrupled the Midland Basin's production in 2012.

WHAT NATURAL RESOURCES ARE IN THE MIDLAND BASIN?

In addition to its vast oil and gas reservoirs, there are a wide variety of subsurface natural resources in the Midland Basin region, including major sylvite formations that yield a steady supply of potassium salts (potash), a byproduct of which is rock salt.  Given the high water cut in some Midland Basin formations, produced water is a valuable natural resource that operators must treat and reinject or recycle for use in hydraulic fracturing or even irrigation.

BUYING OR SELLING ASSETS IN THE PERMIAN?

Wolfcamp Formation / Wolfcamp Play

 

With a thickness up to 1,000 feet, the Wolfcamp Formation is the deepest in the center of the Midland Basin where it is about 12,000 feet deep compared to depths that vary from 4,000 to 7,000 feet at the edges of the basin.  Modern drilling techniques have unlocked its vast reservoirs of high-quality shale oil, making it the primary target of Midland Basin development.

 

Midland Basin Oil Production

 

In 2012, the introduction of horizontal drilling dramatically increased Midland Basin oil output from approximately 350 Mbbl/d to 1.9 MMbbl/d at the beginning of 2020. While the basin’s path to modern unconventional development was paved by operators in the shallower southern end of the basin, rapidly increasing gas-oil-ratios characteristic of the basin have made the area unfavorable economically compared to the deeper, oilier northern end of the basin where most current activity is located.
 

Decreasing horizontal and vertical spacing between parent and child wells coupled with cemented carbonates in the subsurface are leading companies to investigate interwell pressure communication across zones in order to mitigate the economic impact of hydraulic fracturing on producing wells (frac hits).

MAP OF THE MIDLAND BASIN

The Midland Basin spans roughly 14,000 square miles in west Texas. It is separated from the Delaware Basin by the Central Basin Platform on the west and in the east the basin transitions to the Eastern Shelf, a platform carbonate feature where conventional resource has been extensively exploited. In the south, the Midland Basin is separated from the Val Verde subbasin by the Ozona Arch.

HISTORICAL AND EMERGING TARGETS IN THE MIDLAND BASIN

The Midland Basin has the honor of being the site of the first discovery well of the Permian, drilled in Mitchell County in 1920. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the first commercial oil well of the Permian was Santa Rita #1 (named after the patron saint of the impossible), which was completed in Reagan County in 1923 within the San Andres Formation at a depth of 3,050 feet and produced until 1990. For the bulk of the 20th century, operators targeted the San Andres and Spraberry Formations with vertical wells. Legacy vertical wells tapped into the stacked pay zones of the basin by completing zones in the Lower Spraberry and Wolfcamp benches, a comingling of production once known as Wolfberry. Today, operators primarily target the Wolfcamp’s rich oil shales with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The Eastern Shelf has also seen recent activity from wildcatters while newly discovered oil and gas reserves in the Val Verde Basin are sure to draw even more drilling activity to the southeast end of the Midland Basin.

WHAT ARE THE FORMATIONS OF THE MIDLAND BASIN?

The formations of the Midland Basin are mainly comprised of carbonate reef deposits and shallow marine clastic sediments. From youngest to oldest (or shallowest to deepest), the formations of the Midland Basin include Tansill, Yates, Seven Rivers, Queen, Grayburg, San Andres, Glorieta, Leonard, Spraberry, Dean, and Wolfcamp.

ADJOINING BASINS AND NOTABLE FEATURES OF THE MIDLAND BASIN

In addition to its core formations, the Midland Basin features a number of nearby adjoining geologic features or basins.

EASTERN SHELF

To the east of the Midland Basin is the Eastern Shelf of the Permian, a relatively small area featuring a conventional, stratigraphic trap within Scurry County, Texas.  With lower cost acreage compared to prime positions to the west, the Eastern Shelf offers private E&Ps and wildcatters emerging horizontal drilling opportunities as evidenced by the increase in rig count over 2016 levels.

VAL VERDE BASIN

Separated by the Ozona Arch and directly south of the Midland is the Val Verde Basin, which is roughly 25 miles wide by 150 miles long.  With sediments deposited during a long period of flooding during the Middle to Late Cretaceous, the Val Verde Basin is estimated to hold as much as 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and is an emerging major gas producer in the Permian.

Midland Basin Rig Count

Visitors to Midland, Texas are often greeted by lines of drilling rigs ready to deploy to the Midland Basin.  Given the extensive target depths for the Wolfcamp and Spraberry Formations, these rigs represent some of the highest performing land drilling rigs with rotary and directional capabilities that demand high day rates.
permian-basin-rig-count

U.S. Rig Count

521

2% ↑ change from previous week.
Last updated 2021-06-02.

PIPELINES OF THE MIDLAND BASIN

Given its long history and continuous oil production since the early 1920s, the Midland Basin has many of the oldest gathering and transportation pipelines in the Permian representing the basin’s early success.  In response to the takeaway capacity needs of the Midland Basin’s revitalization following the advent of unconventional drilling in the last decade, the pipelines of the Midland Basin also include a network of newer oil, gas, and produced water transportation pipelines.

MIDLAND BASIN OIL COMPANIES

The stacked pay zones and prime acreage positions of the Midland Basin have attracted the supermajors and leading publicly traded firms. Midland Basin oil companies also include many smaller independent exploration and production companies. The following table lists top oil companies of the Midland Basin by barrel of oil equivalent (BOE).

Operator

Oil (Mbbl)

Gas (Mmcf)

BOE (Mboe)

Pioneer Natural Resources

717

1,800

1,000

Concho

228

704

345

Endeavor Energy

216

540

306

Apache Corporation

168

728

290

Chevron

759

369

254

Diamondback

185

375

248

XTO Energy

151

425

222

Parsley Energy

145

444

219

Laredo Petroleum

89

551

181

Encana

114

287

161

Occidental

105

281

151

Crownquest Operating

98

252

140

SM Energy

99

205

134

Energen Resources

72

211

107

Hunt Oil Company

53

312

105

COUNTIES OF THE MIDLAND BASIN

The counties of the Midland Basin extend from Lynn County, Texas, in the north down to Crockett County, Texas. Spanning large tracts of sparsely populated acreage, the Midland Basin’s most populous counties are in neighboring Midland County and Ector County.

County

State

Population

Land Area (miles)

Land Area (kilometers)

Surface Water

Andrews County

Texas

14,057

1,501 square miles

2,416 km2

0.02%

Borden County

Texas

525

906 square miles

1,458 km2

1.00%

Coke County

Texas

3,310

911 square miles

2,359 km2

1.75%

Crane County

Texas

4,165

786 square miles

1,265 km2

0.08%

Crockett County

Texas

3,560

2800 square miles

7300 km2

0.20%

Dawson County

Texas

13,657

902 square miles

1,452 km2

0.20%

Ector County

Texas

134,165

902 square miles

1,452 km2

0.50%

Gaines County

Texas

15,382

1,503 square miles

2,419 km2

0.03%

Glasscock County

Texas

1,406

901 square miles

1,450 km2

0.10%

Howard County

Texas

32,940

904 square miles

1,455 km2

0.40%

Irion County

Texas

1,600

1,052 square miles

2,725 km2

0.07%

Martin County

Texas

4,581

916 square miles

1,474 km2

0.08%

Midland County

Texas

176,832

902 square miles

1,452 km2

0.28%

Mitchell County

Texas

8,470

911 square miles

2,359 km2

0.50%

Reagan County

Texas

3,710

1,175 square miles

3,043 km2

0.05%

Schleicher County

Texas

2,983

640 square miles

1,660 km2

1.30%

Sterling County

Texas

1,300

923 square miles

2,392 km2

0.07%

Sutton County

Texas

3,770

1,454 square miles

3,766 km2

0.05%

Tom Green County

Texas

110,000

1,541 square miles

3,991 km2

0.06%

Upton County

Texas

3,130

1,242 square miles

1,999 km2

0.01%

CITIES OF THE MIDLAND BASIN

The cities of the Midland Basin include Big Lake, the oldest oil town in the Permian (named after the oil company by the same name following the 1923 drilling of the Santa Rita #1 well in Reagan County and subsequent oil boom in the area). Midland Basin cities range in population size from more than 340,000 in the Midland/Odessa metropolitan area to 300 in Garden City, Texas.

City

State

County

Population

Land Area (miles)

Land Area (kilometers)

Lubbock

Texas

Lubbock County

254,000

136 square miles

352 km2

Midland

Texas

Midland County

136,000

75 square miles

194 km2

San Angelo

Texas

Tom Green County

93,200

61.9 square miles

160 km2

Del Rio

Texas

Val Verde County

36,000

20.5 square miles

53 km2

Carlsbad

New Mexico

Eddy County

28,800

31.5 square miles

81.5 km2

Big Spring

Texas

Howard County

27,900

19 square miles

49 km2

Plainview

Texas

Hale County

20,800

13.8 square miles

35.74 km2

Brownfield

Texas

Terry County

9,720

6.55 square miles

16.9 km2

Lamesa

Texas

Dawson County

9,210

5.14 square miles

13.31 km2

Littlefield

Texas

Lamb County

5,990

6.28 square miles

16.27 km2

Colorado City

Texas

Mitchell County

3,940

5.33 square miles

13.81 km2

Big Lake

Texas

Reagan County

3,240

2.39 square miles

6.19 km2

Stanton

Texas

Martin County

2,950

1.98 square miles

5.12 km2

Sonora

Texas

Sutton County

2,770

2.22 square miles

5.75 km2

Eldorado

Texas

Schleicher County

1,690

54 square miles

139 km2

Robert Lee

Texas

Coke County

1,030

1.15 square miles

2.97 km2

Sterling City

Texas

Sterling County

993

0.98 square miles

2.54 km2

Mertzon

Texas

Irion County

739

1.25 square miles

3.23 km2

Gail

Texas

Borden County

326

2.02 square miles

5.23 km2

Garden City

Texas

Glasscock County

319

1.78 square miles

4.76 km2

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