Opinion: Permian Basin talent pool can lead in carbon capture and storage R&D

The Permian Basin, which spans Southeast New Mexico and West Texas, has long been an energy powerhouse. For generations it has supplied much of America’s oil and gas. But beneath the familiar landscape of drilling rigs is an overlooked asset, something we’ve been fortunate to see up close: a reservoir of talent and expertise capable of driving a new era in energy.

We believe the Permian region can lead a decarbonized energy economy in the same way we have led the fossil fuel-focused energy economy since the 1923 discovery of oil here. “Expand the energy menu” is a rallying cry of Texas 2036, a think tank arguing for state leadership in battery storage, carbon capture and underground storage, geothermal and expanded nuclear and renewable energies.

We agree. The Permian Basin provides nearly 40% of America’s oil and nearly 15% of its gas, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. As goes the Permian Basin, so goes the U.S. energy sector. That’s why the energy menu expansion won’t happen without our leadership.

And we’re ready to lead. Our two states have a top-notch network of higher education institutions such as Midland College, New Mexico Junior College, Southeast New Mexico College, Texas Tech, the University of Texas Permian Basin and our institutions, Odessa College and New Mexico Tech. We have trained generations of energy professionals, equipping them with the skills needed to build companies expert in oil and gas extraction. Today’s challenge is adapting those skills to meet the demands of a changing energy landscape. We see this as an opportunity.

Alongside our colleges and universities is a set of civic organizations dedicated to the future of the region, its people and economy. The Permian Strategic Partnership is strengthening the underpinnings of our vibrant two-state region, investing in education, health care, transportation infrastructure and workforce training. The Permian Energy Development Lab, which we are helping lead, is a new consortium of scientists, economic development specialists, energy industry experts and philanthropic leaders. We are sharply focused on ensuring the Permian Basin remains a leader in the global energy economy and that the benefits of this economy flow to local people and institutions.

Imagine a future in which the Permian Basin is a hub for carbon capture and storage research and development. With our geological expertise, the region could repurpose oil and gas reservoirs for storing captured carbon dioxide, helping maintain growth while ensuring a safe environment for future generations. By fostering collaboration between academia, industry, and local communities, the region could develop integrated technologies that harness renewable sources like solar, wind, and geothermal power, ensuring a diversified and reliable energy mix.

We should also lead in dealing with produced water, a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing. A lot is known about treating brackish or seawater, but there’s a long way to go to improve the treatment of produced water. With our combination of energy activity and water scarcity, no place is better suited to lead on finding produced water solutions than the Permian.

To achieve this transformation, we need a two-pronged approach.

First, the existing talent pool — engineers, geologists, and skilled workers — must be prepared and trained for the next-generation energy sector.

Second, institutions like ours must continue to refine education programming to meet the demands of a decarbonized future. By offering courses in carbon capture, geothermal and hydrogen, we can prepare a new generation of professionals equipped to tackle the challenges of the energy transition.

Embracing this expansion will bolster the Permian Basin’s legacy while propelling forward the region’s economy, communities, and people. The region is poised to position itself as a trailblazer in advanced energy systems. By leveraging our existing talent and redirecting it towards a decarbonized future, the Permian can drive innovation, foster economic growth, and play a vital role in strengthening communities and natural resources. Let’s seize this opportunity.

Dr. Tramaine Anderson-Silvas is Vice President for Instruction at Odessa College in Odessa, Texas. She is responsible for oversight of the instructional programs and curriculum at the college. Dr. Nelia Dunbar is director and state geologist at New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. Dunbar oversees research and service activities of the state geological survey.


Editor's Note: PEDL is a project launched and incubated by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. PEDL is the Mitchell Innovation Lab's first initiative. 

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