Shale Bubble

The Secret of the Great American Fracking Bubble

Read time: 8 mins
Natural gas drilling well pad in Wyoming

In 2008, Aubrey McClendon was the highest paid Fortune 500 CEO in America, a title he earned taking home $112 million for running Chesapeake Energy. Later dubbed “The Shale King,” he was at the forefront of the oil and gas industry's next boom, made possible by advances in fracking, which broke open fossil fuels from shale formations around the U.S.

What was McClendon’s secret? Instead of running a company that aimed to sell oil and gas, he was essentially flipping real estate: acquiring leases to drill on land and then reselling them for five to 10 times more, something McClendon explained was a lot more profitable than “trying to produce gas.” But his story may serve as a cautionary tale for an industry that keeps making big promises on borrowed dimes — while its investors begin losing patience, a trend DeSmog will be investigating in an in-depth series over the coming weeks. 

Global Shale Fail: Oil Majors Leaving Fracking Fields Across Europe, Asia

Read time: 3 mins

With some analysts predicting the global price of oil to see another drop, many oil majors have deployed their parachutes and jumped from the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) projects rapidly nose-diving across the world.

As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, the unconvetional shale oil and gas boom is still predominantly U.S.-centric, likely to remain so for years to come.

“Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have packed up nearly all of their hydraulic fracturing wildcatting in Europe, Russia and China,” wrote The Wall Street Journal.

“Chevron halted its last European fracking operations in February when it pulled out of Romania. Shell said it is cutting world-wide shale spending by 30% in places including Turkey, Ukraine and Argentina. Exxon has pulled out of Poland and Hungary, and its German fracking operations are on hold.” 

Though the fracking boom has taken off in the U.S. like no other place on Earth, the U.S. actually possesses less than 10 percent of the world’s estimated shale reserves, according to The Journal.

Despite this resource allotment discrepency, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently revealed that only four countries in the world have produced fracked oil or gas at a commercial-scale: the United States, Canada, China and Argentina.

Global Shale Fail
Image Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Federal Reserve Policy Keeps Fracking Bubble Afloat and That May Change Soon

Read time: 6 mins

In August 2005, the U.S. Congress and then-President George W. Bush blessed the oil and gas industry with a game-changer: the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Act exempted the industry from federal regulatory enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

While the piece of omnibus legislation is well-known to close observers of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) issue — especially the “Halliburton Loophole” — lesser known is another blessing bestowed upon shale gas and tight oil drillers: near zero-percent interest rates for debt accrued during the capital-intensive oil and gas production process.

Or put more bluntly, near-free money from the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. That trend may soon come to a close, as the Federal Reserve recently announced an end to its controversial $3 trillion bond-buying program.

In response to the economic crisis and near collapse of the global economy, the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to between 0 percent and .25 percent on December 16, 2008, a record low percentage. It also began its bond-buying program, described in a recent Washington Post article as implemented to provide a “booster shot” to the economy.

“The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability,” the Fed stated in a press release announcing the maneuver. “In particular, the [Federal Reserve] anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time.”

That free money, known by economics wonks as quantitative easing, helps drilling companies finance fracking an increasingly massive number of wells to keep production levels flat in shale fields nationwide.

But even with the generous cash flow facilitated by the Fed, annual productivity of many shale gas and tight oil fields have either peaked or are in terminal decline. This was revealed in Post Carbon Institute's recently-published report titled, “Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom.” 

U.S. Energy Policies Based on Inflated Fracking Predictions: Post Carbon Institute Report

Read time: 6 mins

Economic predictions about the fracking industry's potential growth have for the most part gone unquestioned — until now.

A new report from the Post Carbon Institute exposes highly inflated forecasts and concludes that the amount of oil that can be tapped by hydraulic fracturing cannot be maintained at the levels assumed beyond 2020.

The report, “Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on US Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom,” says inflated forecasts from the Energy Information Administration have fostered a lack of urgency to transition to renewable energy. The report also looks at the oil industry's increased pressure to relax restrictions on fracking and change oil and gas export rules.  

The Department of Energy’s forecasts — the ones everyone is relying on to guide our energy policy and planning — are overly optimistic based on what the actual well data are telling us,” says David Hughes, a geoscientist and author of the Post Carbon Institute report.

The report shatters the government’s estimate of the potential productivity of America’s shale regions. Four out of seven of the top shale regions have peaked and are now in a decline, the report says. Another three will peak in production before the government’s forecast predicts. In decline already are the Barnett, Haynesville, Fayetteville and Woodford Shales.
 

Source: Post Carbon Institute 

Investors Waking Up To Risks Of Stranded Assets, Realities Of Shale Bubble

Read time: 7 mins

The day after some 400,000 people marched in the streets of New York to call for climate justice, the world woke to some more historic news: The Rockefeller family, heirs to the Standard Oil fortune, announced that they were directing their $860 million charitable fund to divest from fossil fuels.

The Rockefellers cited their moral obligation to leave a better planet for their children as motivation, but it was also a business decision: “We see this as having both a moral and economic dimension,” Steven Rockefeller says.

Investors are beginning to realize that it’s not just coal in decline. All fossil fuels, including oil and natural gas, are living on borrowed time.

According to Carbon Tracker, we can only burn one-fifth of proven fossil fuel reserves if we are to avert the most catastrophic global warming, and if capital expenditures continue at current rates, some $6.74 trillion will be wasted over the next decade developing reserves that are likely to become unburnable.

Translation: The clean energy revolution is coming, and the forward-looking money is backing renewables, not fossil fuels.

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