fracking finances

Peak Shale: Is the US Fracking Industry Already in Decline?

Read time: 7 mins
Fracking well sites from the air, in Jonah, Wyoming

In 2016, lower oil prices led to an overall drop in production for shale companies, which use horizontal drilling and fracking to extract oil and gas from shale formations such as the Marcellus and Permian. This was one of the few relatively positive financial periods for an industry plagued by high costs and low returns (although it still lost money in 2016).

But the industry shouldn't get complacent, warned Robert Clarke of energy industry research and consulting group Wood Mackenzie. Cracks already are starting to emerge in the optimistic forecasts of how much these shale formations can produce, which is a bad sign for turning around the industry's struggling finances.

The Fracking Industry’s Water Nightmare

Read time: 7 mins
Sign reading "hot water"

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has clearly documented the multiple risks — despite repeated dismissals from the oil and gas industry — that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) poses to drinking water supplies. However, the tables may be turning: Water itself now poses a risk to the already failing financial model of the American fracking industry, and that is something the industry won’t be able to ignore.

Rise of the Machines: Fracking Execs Plan Profits by Using Automation to Shrink Workforce

Read time: 6 mins
Fracking rig workers

At a recent industry conference, Terry Spencer, head of natural gas infrastructure company ONEOK, made clear the direction the fracking industry was headed: “One of these days one of these big ol’ fracs will be operated with nobody there.”

Translation: Computers and robots are going to replace all human jobs at the oil and gas fracking sites of the future.

Why It Matters If Fracking Companies Are Overestimating Their ‘Proved’ Oil and Gas Reserves

Read time: 12 mins
Oil pumpjacks in silhouette

Back in 2011, The New York Times first raised concerns about the reliability of America's proved shale gas reserves. Proved reserves are the estimates of supplies of oil and gas that drillers tell investors they will be able to tap. The Times suggested that a recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule change allowed drillers to potentially overbook their “proved” reserves of natural gas from shale formations, which horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) were rapidly opening up.

Welcome back to Alice in Wonderland,” energy analyst John E. Olson told The Times, commenting on the reliability of these reserves after the rule change. Olson, a former Merrill Lynch analyst, is best known for seeing the coming Enron scandal 10 years before the infamous energy company imploded in 2000.

Today, those same rules have allowed shale drillers to boost their reserves of oil, as well as natural gas. As a result, these “proved” reserves, which investors and pipeline companies are banking on, could potentially be much less proven than they appear.

And the unprecented degree to which this is happening in the shale industry casts a shadow of doubt on the purportedly bright future of America's booming oil and gas industry.

This Fed Policy Enabled the Fracking Industry’s $280 Billion Loss

Read time: 12 mins
Stock market numbers over oil drill pumpjack

Most people probably aren’t familiar with the acronym ZIRP. It stands for zero interest rate policy and is the policy that unintentionally created the American fracking bubble — just one of its many consequences.

And while most people may not know much (if anything) about ZIRP or the Federal Reserve (Fed), it is likely that they are aware of the impact this policy has on their own lives.

How Wall Street Enabled the Fracking 'Revolution' That's Losing Billions

Read time: 9 mins
Wall Street sign

The U.S. shale oil industry hailed as a “revolution” has burned through a quarter trillion dollars more than it has brought in over the last decade. It has been a money-losing endeavor of epic proportions.

In September 2016, the financial ratings service Moody’s released a report on U.S. oil companies, many of which were hurting from the massive drop in oil prices. Moody's found that “the financial toll from the oil bust can only be described as catastrophic,” particularly for small companies that took on huge debt to finance fracking shale formations when oil prices were high.

And even though shale companies still aren't turning a profit, Wall Street continues to lend the industry more money while touting these companies as good investments. Why would investors do that?

Subscribe to fracking finances