How a ‘Monster’ Texas Oil Field Made the U.S. a Star in the World Market

Mr. Wilkinson has reason for enthusiasm, given the giant new investments that Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell have begun to make here despite all the price uncertainty.

With a major acquisition in New Mexico last year, Exxon Mobil became the most active driller in the basin, and projects that it will increase production fivefold by 2025. Also growing rapidly here, Chevron estimates that one in six of every barrels it produces globally will come from the Permian by 2021.

After regaining a foothold in the Permian last year, BP is expected to invest heavily, contributing to a total investment of more than $10 billion by the major oil companies here this year, according to IHS Markit, the energy consultant.

Royal Dutch Shell is just beginning to catch up, after buying acreage from Chesapeake seven years ago. It already has 1,300 wells that produce 145,000 barrels of oil a day and associated gas, a 200 percent increase since January 2017. The company projects it can increase production to 200,000 barrels a day by 2020.

Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, said Thursday that his company was seeking to increase its footprint in the Permian, the most recent sign that big oil companies will continue to snap up smaller ones.

“For Shell, the Permian is absolutely critical,” said Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell Oil. “The Permian is massive; it’s a game changer for U.S. shale. It is the powerhouse field.”

But the output of shale wells declines quickly, making the drilling here a never-ending treadmill. And that has been a challenge for the small companies that have been the innovators here but are now facing demands from investors to show financial discipline.