GUEST VIEW: The case for Permian optimism

By Dr. George Nnanna

A recent national news article questioned Midland’s willingness to invest in itself. Instead of arguing with the author, I want to share why I’m more optimistic than ever about the Permian Basin’s future.

In simple terms, the Permian Basin is poised to be a global force in the energy sector, encompassing oil, gas, renewables, and advanced energy systems like hydrogen, geothermal, and carbon management. To achieve this bright future, we must prioritize a thriving ecosystem of jobs, education and training programs, and investments that promote community development and protect our natural resources. Global impact is possible if we work together.

But before I get there, let’s acknowledge two significant challenges our region faces: the cyclical nature of the energy industry and water management.


Pick a decade since the 1923 discovery of oil at Santa Rita No. 1 and you’ll find a Permian boom or bust. This cycle discourages long-term investment, leads to different career choices for young people, and undermines stability for industry employees and their families. The boom-and-bust pattern is not anyone’s fault; it is a complex consequence of global energy market dynamics. Addressing it requires a multifaceted solution involving businesses, government, and nonprofit leaders working together to establish a more stable future for the Permian.


Water poses another challenge. The region depends on both freshwater sources essential for living and the produced water integral to the energy industry. Hydraulic fracturing in the Permian, which targets non-porous rock formations, in some cases leads to issues like high-pressure disposal zones, seismic activity, increased costs, and improper disposal practices. Further, our aquifer-derived freshwater is scarce, and competition arises between water used for hydraulic fracturing and agricultural, municipal, and residential needs.

Produced water is my area of research focus at UT Permian Basin, so I know firsthand that while treatment methods for brackish and seawater are well-established, improving technologies for treating produced water remains a priority, balancing safety, economics, environment, and community concerns.


This brings me back to my optimism about the Permian’s future and the resources that will drive progress.

First, we have an outstanding network of colleges and universities, including Midland and Odessa Colleges, New Mexico Jr. College, Southeast New Mexico College, and The University of Texas Permian Basin. These institutions are vibrant hubs of activity, training the next generation across a range of programs from vocational to advanced degrees. Our new engineering building at UTPB, which rivals renowned research facilities worldwide, is a testament to this progress.

Second, we possess a wealth of talent in the energy industry. The Permian Basin accounts for a significant portion of U.S. oil and natural gas production, with Texas leading in wind and solar energy as well. This concentration of activity has cultivated a diverse pool of human capital within companies of all sizes, which can be harnessed to drive progress in advanced energy systems.

Third, our philanthropic institutions, such as the Abell-Hanger Foundation and the Scharbauer Foundation, play a vital role in enhancing education and healthcare services in our community. The Nonprofit Management Center also provides support to community-based organizations.

Alongside these groups, the Permian Strategic Partnership, a coalition of 20 energy companies, has already invested over $140 million in our community, with ongoing efforts to improve education, healthcare, roads and infrastructure, and workforce development.

Last, the Permian Energy Development Lab launched this spring to build on the Permian’s status at the center of the American energy economy. I’m proud to be a leader of the effort, which includes representatives of seven Texas and New Mexico Universities, two national laboratories and a center for advanced research. Our goal is to conduct advanced energy research, educate the next generation of energy professionals, and support the Permian’s communities and natural resources.

Let me conclude with a personal reflection. I may not be a native-born Texan, but I have chosen to raise a family and build a career here because the Permian is a place of opportunity. We’ve got the resources; what’s left is for us come together, collaborate, and innovate for our future. I have no doubt we can accomplish this goal.

Dr. George Nnanna is founding Dean for the College of Engineering at The University of Texas Permian Basin. He is responsible for all college academic programs, administration and for the creation of an innovative engineering and computing department.