Dimitry Orlov with a definitive writeup on “Shale Gas” and why it won’t save America economically through European sales OR in energy usage
Just one example…
While Barnett shale is not particularly radioactive, Marcellus shale, which has recently been the focus of frantic drilling activity, is. Thanks to Marcellus shale gas, radioactive radon gas is being delivered directly to your kitchen, via the burners of your stove, or to a power plant smokestack upwind from where you live. This is expected to result in increased lung cancer rates in the coming years.
But perhaps making money with it is not the point. What if shale gas is just a PR campaign (with horrific environmental side effects)? Going back to what Alexei Miller said, what if the entire point of the exercise was to increase the capitalization of shale gas exploration and production companies? The number one company in shale gas is Chesapeake Energy, the owner of the Barnett basin and a major player in the Marcellus basin.
This company almost went bankrupt in 2009, but then managed to claw its way back to profitability in 2010 and 2011 by drilling, and drilling, and drilling, and then drilling some more. Sixty percent of their revenue is from drilling operations.
And now there is a scandal involving Chesapeake Energy’s (former?) chairman, Aubrey K. McClendon, who apparently awarded himself a stake in each well his company drilled, used them as collateral for billions in loans, and used the loans to bet that natural gas prices will go up (they haven’t). In the meantime, natural gas drilling rig count has dropped to a ten-year low. Given that shale gas wells deplete very quickly, it looks like the shale gas boom is over.
But now that it’s over, what was it, exactly? It appears to have been something like the dot-com bubble: companies with no conceivable way of turning a profit using hype to attract investment and drive up their valuations. Since 2008, various kinds of hype-based market manipulations have become the staple of economic life in the US, and so this is nothing new or different.
One interesting question is, What sort of bubble will the US attempt to blow next, if any? There is the Facebook IPO coming up. Facebook is a ridiculous time-waster and, as such, seems a bit overpriced. Are we going to attempt blowing up another dot-com bubble? Another round of subprime mortgages does not seem to be in the works. What’s a bubble boy to do? If there are no more bubbles to blow, then it’s back to just plain printing money.
So this whole shale gas thing didn’t work out as planned, did it? But could it have? Had it turned out to be much better in every way, could it have swung geopolitical influence away from Russia and Iran and back toward the US? Alas, no.
You see, there is no such thing as a global natural gas market. Yes, there are some LNG tankers sailing about, but that is very much a point-to-point trade. There is a closed North American market, a European market, and another market in the Asia-Pacific region. These markets do not interact…