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Chance Chase, of Chase Energy Services, from left, Carman Mullins of XTO Energy and Oscar Quintero of Occidental Petroleum comprised the final panel at Tuesday’s third annual New Mexico EnergyPlex Conference at the Lea County Event Center. JEFF TUCKER NEWS-SUN

It’s all about the rock.

Oil and gas company executives speaking during the final panel of Tuesday’s third annual New Mexico EnergyPlex Conference said the region’s rich natural resources can be attributed to the quality of its shale rock thousands of feet below the ground.

In December, the U.S. Geological Survey reported an estimated 46.3 billion barrels of oil assessed in the Wolfcamp Shale and overlying Bone Spring Formation in the Delaware Basin portion of Texas and New Mexico’s Permian Basin. The USGS also reported there were 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, making the Permian Basin the premier play for oil and gas companies.

It has also led to Lea County producing 14.6 million barrels of oil in January, becoming the second-highest oil-producing county in the nation, second only to McKenzie County, N.D., which produced 17.3 million barrels the same month.

Michael Latchem, president and CEO of Lucid Energy, said during Tuesday’s conference he expects Lea County to become the No. 1 oil-producing county in the lower 48 states by the end of 2021. Latchem said Eddy County will likely be the No. 2 oil-producing county in the nation in three or four years.

Oscar Quintero, president and general manager-Permian Resources, New Mexico Delaware Basin at Occidental Petroleum; Carmen Mullins, vice president of the Permian business unit at XTO Energy, an ExxonMobil subsidiary; and Chance Chase, vice president of business development for Mack Energy and president of Chase Energy Services of Artesia, comprised the final panel at Tuesday’s energy conference at the Lea County Event Center.

Quintero said Occidental, also known as OXY, has more than 500 people dedicated to the Permian Basin.

“We have a unique position in the Permian of around 2.7 million acres,” Quintero said. “And with that we produce 10 percent of the Permian Basin oil and gas. Even an more impressive number, I think, is the fact that we operate more than 25,000 wells.”

Quintero said 40% of the top 50 wells in the Permian are operated by OXY. With 12 to 13 rigs, he said OXY has seen a 52% production growth in the Permian between 2017 and 2018.

“Occidental works for the full life cycle. We don’t work just for the first two years,” Quintero said. “With that foundation … we’re here to stay.”

Mullins said XTO is also building infrastructure in the Permian Basin for the longterm. She said XTO is projected to contribute $64 billion of economic growth in the basin by 2040.

“That’s just our piece of the industry,” she said of a study. “Hopefully that gives other industries and infrastructure companies the confidence of the growth and the potential here that we’ll need to partner with to be successful.”

Chase said Chase Energy Services has diversified, employing 1,200 people in the Permian Basin.

“We’re now the largest pecan grower in the world,” he said. “We are also an energy industry service company. We do everything from fracking, cementing, construction, pulling units, everything else that you can possibly think of out in the Permian.”

Mullins said one of the big advantages to conducting operations in Lea County is the quality of the shale rock.

“As XTO Energy and Exxon-Mobil look around the world to produce oil and gas, there are a couple of key areas that they look at,” she said. “First off, Lea County has been graced with amazing rock, so the oil and gas is in the ground. So that’s a huge benefit. The second one is we’ve been graced with an amazing and welcoming community that is willing and wanting to work with us to produce oil and gas.”

Building the workforce continues to be a necessity, she said.

“You kind of have the ingredients to be successful for the long-term,” she said. “That’s what I think you should feel very proud of.”

Chase also said the quality of local shale rock and numerous local oilfield service companies make the Permian Basin a premier play for oil and gas companies.

“My family is here to stay,” he said.

Jeff Tucker may be reached at managingeditor@ hobbsnews.com.