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Economics

The Permian Oil Boom Is Showing Signs of Overheating

Shortages of sand, pipelines, and manpower could jeopardize America’s future as an energy superpower.

Oil-well pads in the Permian Basin outside Midland, Texas, on Oct. 11.

Oil-well pads in the Permian Basin outside Midland, Texas, on Oct. 11.

Photographer: Matthew Busch for Bloomberg Businessweek

At 10:30 p.m. on an 85F August night in Penwell, in West Texas, a 69-year-old repairman is hammering away at the frame of an 18-wheeler in the forecourt of an abandoned truck stop. The song Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd blares from the radio. “I’m making more money than I ever did,” says Don Suggs, who spends nights inside a vacant, graffiti-covered shop nearby, where he sleeps in a hammock. Just six weeks earlier he was retired, living near Dallas. He’s here now, he says, “for one last hoo-rah.”

Suggs’s sole employee, Bo Bennett, a heavily tattooed native of Waco, Texas, beds down in what used to be the shop’s freezer. The only sign of a home comfort is a hanging punching bag. “This is the new West,” says Bennett with a smile.