The business journalist and bestselling author of The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron turns her eye toward the big business of fracking—the arduous process of extracting fuel from shale rock—and the debt-ridden instability she sees as a financial disaster waiting to happen.
She describes geology in plain English, recounts the rise and fall of one of the country’s most flamboyant shale gas tycoons, and studies the political consequences of a United States that is far less dependent on oil imports than it was just a decade ago. In each case, informed by her experience in financial affairs, McLean has cautionary words about the limits of U.S. output, the financial perils of betting on shale exploration stocks and the dangers of believing that the United States is somehow free from the geopolitics of petroleum ... She brings a sensible financial eye to the Trump administration’s talk about American 'energy dominance' and the 'believers' who think technology will help the country outgrow its petroleum problem.
As journalist Bethany McLean sketches with clarity and concision in this book, the shale revolution has had profound effects on the U.S., creating jobs and cutting energy costs, but many of the claims made for it have been overblown ... If you have not been reading much news coverage of the sector over the past 10 years and want to be brought up to speed, then this is the book for you. If you have been following the story, you will find much of the material familiar. But McLean does provide a useful focus on some under-appreciated aspects of the shale revolution, in particular the role of debt in the industry’s growth ... She is careful not to be over-confident with her predictions, writing that 'as history shows, even oil and gas executives don’t have a clue what’s going to happen next.' But while that might be an unsatisfying conclusion, it is nevertheless an important one.
The short sellers Ms. McLean relied upon for her Enron reporting may have turned out to be right, but that doesn’t mean the ones she quotes frequently in Saudi America, such as Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates and David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, are equally prescient about shale. 'If it weren’t for historically low interest rates,' she writes, 'it’s not clear there would even have been a fracking boom.' That assessment exaggerates the burden of debt and plays down the technological breakthroughs that helped make the U.S. the world’s largest producer of both oil and natural gas. There is more to this story than Aubrey McClendon and cheap money ... In a book meant to be read quickly, Ms. McLean often dashes off quick points that are poorly reasoned ... Ms. McLean is glib about how easy the shift away from fossil fuels will be ... The race to protect humanity from the worst effects of climate change surely depends upon decarbonizing our energy system, but fracking has a role to play in the long process of adjustment.