Fracking Is a Huge American Money Pit

I learned something new today. Every year, fracking operations in the United States produce more than a billion barrels of oil and gas. And we’re basically just giving it all away:

That’s right: the whole industry is a huge money sink. If you invested $100 in the S&P 500 a decade ago, you’d have $180 today. If you invested $100 in fracking, you’d have…

$69.

The Wall Street Journal explains what’s going on:

Returns from individual wells can be good, but shale wells tend to pop online with a gush and then peter out fairly quickly. That has meant operators sink profits back into more new wells that can take another two years to become profitable, with shareholders told to hang on for a payday.

“The mañana never quite materializes,” Mr. McMahon says.

One factor sapping profits is that many shale producers paid extravagantly to lease land for drilling in places such as the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico. Many operators drop out those land-acquisition costs from the break-even-price calculations they tout to shareholders. While most shale operators claim they have hundreds, if not thousands, of well locations they say can muster a 10% profit margin or more, the number of in-the-money wells is far smaller when costs for land, pipelines and other infrastructure and overhead is factored in.

Remind me again why we’re doing this? Fracking is bad because it releases methane; bad because it destabilizes fault lines; bad for pumping poisonous dreck into the ground; and of course, bad for climate change. But all along I figured that at least greed could explain why we put up with this. Greed explains a lot of odious human behavior. But what’s the point of frantically digging up all our fossil fuel resources now now now if no one is even making any money from it?

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate