We begin with an amazing American economic story you probably haven’t heard much about. Quietly and without much fanfare, the U.S. has become the world’s largest producer of crude oil... defying many predictions. And the impact goes way beyond our oil fields. It’s a big stick that can be used to influence international policy. The heart of the black gold rush is West Texas where Scott Thuman reports on the big boom.
There is a boom underway in West Texas. One so loud, so impactful, the entire world is paying attention. Aging skylines are making way for the new .. because underneath this ground, a discovery, that's changing the global energy game and promising America a brighter, more independent future.
Ray Perryman: By the time it's done, it's probably going to be the largest oil field in the history of the world.
Ray Perryman is an oil analyst and expert, who's spent a lifetime studying the industry's boom and bust cycles.
Scott: 10 years ago they thought they might be on the verge of running out?
Ray Perryman: Yeah, production had fallen by 67%.
Not only did it not run out, but due to technological advances in Horizontal drilling and fracking, this field is now producing more crude oil and natural gas than any other single spot on the planet.
Scott: And now they think they've got perhaps centuries worth?
Ray Perryman: Absolutely.
Scott: That's a staggering development.
Ray Perryman: It's staggering. I've been in this business 40 years, and I'm a student of the history of it for several centuries, and it's truly a rare event to see something like this happen.
An 86-thousand square mile swath of land known as the Permian basin stretches from the Rio Grande into Southeast New Mexico, possibly containing a mind blowing 46 billion barrels of oil. Tapping into these giant reserves has just made America the number one crude oil and natural gas producer in the world, outpacing Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran. A far cry from the past, when America's reliance on other nations for energy brought panic at the pumps like the gas shortages of 1973, and again in 1979, as America lined up, just to fill up.
Those days, it seems, a distant speck, in the rear view mirror.
President Trump: We have unleashed a revolution in American energy—the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.
With that independence, President Trump has been free to impose sanctions on oil-rich nations like Iran and Venezuela, without worrying as much about the prices here. A budgetary boom is especially felt in Texas, since much of the land here in the Permian basin is owned by the state, which leases, taxes and profits richly from it.
Overseeing it all: The General Land Office and its elected leader - a man whose family name you've heard before.
George P. Bush: There are some estimates that put it by 2025, to be exporting upwards of eight million barrels a day.
Scott: More than Iraq.
George P. Bush: More than Iraq. Which is extraordinary to think about. I remember when I graduated from law school in 2003, my law professor said "This is dying industry. We won't be producing anymore and you don't have to worry about that issue on the bar exam." So to go from a complete paradigm shift from one generation to the next, it's truly astonishing.
The son of Jeb and nephew of George W. Bush, George P. Bush, can't stop smiling for other reasons too. The Texas political dynasty has deep roots in Oil Country, once calling Midland home.
George P. Bush: Some research shows that the average Texan that's employed in the oil and gas industry makes about $130,000. That's about twice the national average for most average salaries. Most of these jobs ... So the Wall Street Journal put out an article recently that said that a barber right now in Pecos, Texas is making $180,000. Commercial drivers are making in excess of $150,000. Some without high school degrees, maybe with G.E.D's.
And even then, employers from trucking companies to fast food joints, are struggling just to keep up with all that action, so workers from across the country are flooding in, like Chris Woods and Thomas Clayborn, who came from Louisiana. They're just two of thousands here.
Scott: What drew you guys out here?
Chris Woods: The money.
Thomas Clayborn: Yeah, the money. It's definitely not the scenery.
Scott: Both, pulling in six figure salaries on the oil fields where 80 hour weeks are common.
Scott: It's pretty fantastic, right?
Thomas Clayborn: Yeah.
Chris Woods: Oh, yeah. And that's- you ain't gotta have a high school diploma or anything.
Thomas Clayborn: No.
Scott: Yeah, I guess that's true, right?
Chris Woods: Know how to have a good work ethic, that's about it and sometimes you ain't even got to have that as long as you show up on time every day.
Alongside the oil derricks, man camps, pop-up villages like this one housing 8-hundred workers, and more on the way.
Scott: There’s just this sense that there's always something going on out here, 24/7, you’ve got the pump jacks you’ve got the constant drilling and this parade of large trucks moving people and equipment back and forth you can feel the action and almost hear the money being counted.
Scott: The Midland man at the center of it all, and under pressure to manage it, is Mayor Jerry Morales.
Jerry Morales: So we need workforce housing, we need doctors, we need nurses, we need teachers, we need everybody in Midland, Texas to help us with our growing education, healthcare, city, county. I mean it’s just nuts.
In an area they were once racing to build one new home a day, he says they need federal help to both capitalize on and control this rush.
Jerry Morales: We need to see President Trump here.
Scott: Why would it be important for the president to see this first hand?
Jerry Morales: We’re 15 thousand workers short just in the oil and gas industry, our road fatalities area at a record high because our infrastructure is stretched so thin.
For Gene Collins, these economic “good times” can be bad for locals. The Odessa pastor--who preaches more than just religion, sees danger in the night sky.
Scott: When you see that flame what does it mean to you?
Gene Collins: That somebody's health is going to be affected. That the climate change factors are being expended into the air. That somebody's going to suffer. It may not be tomorrow, but there may be a heightening of a blizzard somewhere or an ice cap is melting.
Scott: You've got environmentalists, you've got a lot of people out there who worry about everything from fracking to as you pointed out, flares to just having the extra pollution of more trucks on the road, more transport. Do you think you've got a good enough grip on managing that?
George P. Bush: We do. We have a philosophy of engaging these issues head-on rather than being reactive and waiting for outside groups or citizens to call these developments into question.
Scott: If we ask the state, they would say, "It is regulated. It is being monitored. It is being watched."
Collins: We have a lot of self-policing out here. Historically, we know that that doesn't work. It's like giving yourself a ticket for speeding. It's impractical.
It is, both sides say, a balancing act. They've seen their share of tough times, when the fields seemed tapped out, when it cost more to pump than it was worth, jobs disappeared, and people did too. But those days are long gone and if the predictions are right, this boom could outlast us all.