The End of the Shale Bubble?

from John Michael Greer, The Archdruid Report, 2/27/13

…From the building of the first solar steam engines before the turn of the last century, through the boom-and-bust cycle of alternative energy sources in the late 1970s, right up to the ethanol plants that were launched with so much fanfare a decade ago and sold for scrap much more quietly a few years later, the pattern’s the same, a repeated rhythm of great expectations followed by shattered dreams. .

Here’s how it works. A media panic over the availability of some energy resource or other sparks frantic efforts to come up with a response that won’t require anybody to change their lifestyles or, heaven help us, conserve. Out of the flurry of available resources and technologies, one or two seize the attention of the media and, shortly thereafter, the imagination of the general public. Money pours into whatever the chosen solution happens to be, as investors convince themselves that there’s plenty of profit to be made backing a supposedly sure thing, and nobody takes the time to ask hard questions. In particular, investors tend to lose track of the fact that something can be technically feasible without being economically viable, and rosy estimates of projected cash flow and return on investment take the place of meaningful analysis.

Then come the first financial troubles, brushed aside by cheerleading “analysts” as teething troubles or the results of irrelevant factors certain to pass off in short order. The next round of bad news follows promptly, and then the one after that; the first investors begin to pull out; sooner or later, one of the hot companies that has become an icon in the new industry goes suddenly and messily bankrupt, and the rush for the exits begins. Barring government subsidies big enough to keep some shrunken form of the new industry stumbling along thereafter, that’s usually the end of the road for the former solution du jour, and decades can pass before investors are willing to put their money into the same resource or technology again.

That’s the way that the fracking story started, too. By the time it was well under way, though, a jarring new note had sounded: the most prestigious of the US mass media suddenly started parroting the most sanguine daydreams of the fracking industry. They insisted at the top of their lungs that the relatively modest increases in oil and gas production from fracked shales marked a revolutionary new era, in which the United States would inevitably regain the energy independence it last had in the 1950s, and prosperity would return for all—or at least for all who jumped aboard the new bandwagon as soon as possible. Happy days, we were told, were here again.

What made this barrage of propaganda all the more fascinating was the immense gaps that separated it from the realities on and under the ground in Pennsylvania and North Dakota. The drastic depletion rates from fracked wells rarely got a mention, and the estimates of how much oil and gas were to be found in the various shale deposits zoomed upwards with wild abandon. Nor did the frenzy stop there; blatant falsehoods were served up repeatedly by people who had every reason to know that they were false….

read the whole post at The Archdruid Report

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Filed under Economy, Labor, Tax, Environment, Energy, Science

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