How Wall Street Enabled the Fracking 'Revolution' That's Losing Billions
By Justin Mikulka
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.
David Einhorn, star hedge fund investor and the founder of Greenlight Capital, has referred to the shale industry as "a joke."
"A business that burns cash and doesn't grow isn't worth anything," said Einhorn, who often goes against the grain in the financial world.
Aren't investors supposed to be focused on putting money toward profitable companies? While, in theory, yes, the reality is quite different for industries like shale oil and housing.
If the U.S. financial crisis of 2008 has revealed anything, it is that Wall Street isn't concerned with making a "shitty deal" when it means profits and bonuses for its traders and executives, despite their roles in the crash.
Wall Street makes money by facilitating deals much like a Vegas bookie makes money by taking bets. As the saying about Las Vegas goes: "The house always wins." What's true about casinos and gambling also holds true for Wall Street.
Wall Street caused the 2008 financial crisis, with some of its architects personally benefiting. However, while a few executives profited, the result was a drop in employment of 8.8 million people, and according to Bloomberg News in 2010, "at one point last year  the U.S. had lent, spent or guaranteed as much as $12.8 trillion to rescue the economy."
JP Morgan (along with much of Wall Street) required large sums of money in the form of bailouts to survive the fallout from all of the bad loans made, which brought about the housing crisis. Is JP Morgan steering clear of making loans to the shale industry? No. Quite the opposite.
As shown in this chart of which banks are loaning money to shale company EOGResources, while all of the big players in Wall Street are in on the action, JP Morgan has the biggest bet.
To understand why JP Morgan and the rest of these banks would loan money to shale companies that continue to lose it, it's important to understand the gambling concept of "the vigorish" or the vig. Merriam-Webster defines vigorish as "a charge taken (as by a bookie or a gambling house) on bets."
Wall Street makes money by taking a cut of other people's money. To a gambling house, it doesn't matter if everyone else is making money or losing it, as long as the house gets its cut (the vig)—or as it's known in the financial world—fees.
Understanding this concept gives insight into why investors have lent a quarter trillion dollars to the shale industry, which has burned through it. If you take the vig on a quarter trillion dollars, you have a big pile of cash. And while those oil companies may all go bankrupt, Wall Street never gives back the vig.
Trent Stedman of the investment firm Columbia Pacific Advisors LLC explained to The Wall Street Journal at the end of 2017 why shale producers would keep drilling more oil even when the companies are bleeding money on every barrel produced:
"Some would say, 'We know it's bad economics, but it's what The Street wants.'"
And "The Street" generally gets what it wants, even when it is clear that loaning money to shale companies that have been losing money for a decade and are already deep in debt is "bad economics." But Wall Street bonuses are based on how many "fees" an employee can bring to the bank. More fees mean a bigger bonus. And loans—even ones that are clearly bad economics—mean a lot more fees.
Shale Oil Companies Are "Creatures of the Capital Markets"
In 2017 "legendary" hedge fund manager Jim Chanos referred to shale oil companies as "creatures of the capital markets," meaning that without Wall Street money, they would not exist. Chanos is also on record as shorting the stock of heavily leveraged shale oil giant Continental Resources because the company can't even make enough money to pay the interest on its loans.
And he has a point. In 2017 Continental spent $294.5 million on interest expenses, which is approximately 155 percent of its 2017 adjusted net income generation. When you can't even pay the interest on your credit cards, you are broke.
And yet in 2017, investor capital was still flowing, with Continental Resources among those bellying up to the Wall Street trough for another billion in debt.
"In 2017, U.S. [exploration and production] firms raised more from bond sales than in any year since the price collapse started in 2014, with offerings coming in at around $60 billion — up nearly 30 percent from 2016, according to Dealogic. Large-cap players like Whiting Petroleum, Continental Resources, Southwestern, Noble, Concho and Endeavor Energy Resources each raised $1 billion or more in the second half of 2017."
How big of a problem is this business of loaning money to an industry burning through billions and burying itself in debt? So big that the CEO of shale company Anadarko Petroleum is blaming Wall Street and asking its companies to please stop loaning money to the shale oil industry. Yes, that's right.
In 2017, Anadarko CEO Al Walker told an investor conference that Wall Street investors were the problem:
"The biggest problem our industry faces today is you guys. You guys can help us help ourselves. It's kind of like going to AA. You know, we need a partner. We really need the investment community to show discipline."
The Wall Street Journal reported that Walker maintains: "Wall Street has become an enabler that pushes companies to grow production at any cost, while punishing those that try to live within their means."
Imagine begging banks to stop loaning you money. And being ignored.
Growing production at any cost is the story of the shale "revolution." The financial cost paid so far has been the more than $280 billion the industry has burned through—money that its companies have received from Wall Street and, despite the plea from Al Walker, continue to receive.
The Economist summarized the situation in 2017:
"It [the shale industry] has burned up cash whether the oil price was at $100, as in 2014, or at about $50, as it was during the past three months. The biggest 60 firms in aggregate have used up $9 billion per quarter on average for the past five years."
Higher oil prices are now being touted as the industry's savior but, as The Economist noted, the shale industry was losing money even when oil was $100 a barrel.
Still Wall Street keeps giving the shale industry money and the shale industry keeps losing it as it ramps up production. To be clear, this arrangement makes shale company CEOs and financial lenders very rich, which is why the trend is likely to continue. And why Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm will continue to repeat the myth that his industry is making money, as he did at the end of 2017:
"For anybody to even put forth the suggestion we haven't had great expansion and wealth creation in this industry with horizontal drilling and all the technology that's come about the last 10 years, I mean, it's totally ridiculous."
No one will argue that Hamm and his partners on Wall Street are not extremely wealthy. That has happened despite Hamm's company and the rest of the fracking industry losing epic sums of money. The same year Hamm made that statement, his company couldn't even cover its interest expenses. To put that in perspective, Continental Resources couldn't even make the equivalent of the minimum payment on its credit card.
Watch What the Industry Does, Not What It Says
Higher oil prices are yielding more stories about how 2018 will be the year that the shale industry finally makes a profit. Harold Hamm refers to it as Continental Resources' "breakout year." Interesting how potentially not losing money for a year is considered a "breakout year" in the shale industry.
As reported on DeSmog, the industry certainly got a huge boost from the recent tax law, which will help its companies' short-term finances. Continental Resources alone took home $700 million in tax relief.
Recent reports in the financial press detail how the new approach in the shale industry will be to focus only on profitable oil production, not just producing more barrels at a loss. As The Wall Street Journal put it in a headline: Wall Street Tells Frackers to Stop Counting Barrels, Start Making Profits.
In that very article, Continental CEO Hamm assures that he is on board with this new approach, saying, "You are really preaching to the choir."
But has Continental actually embraced this new approach of fiscal responsibility and restraint?
Not so much.
The fracking firm appears to have done the opposite, increasing production to record levels along with the rest of the shale industry. Continental recently reported plans to drill 350 new wells at an estimated cost of $11.7 million per well, which adds up to over $4 billion in total costs on those wells. The company currently holds more than $6 billion in debt and less than $100 million cash.
How will Continental fund those new wells? Hamm has promised that going forward, there would be "absolutely no new debt." Perhaps Continental will fund it by selling assets because without more debt, Continental does not have the money to fund those new wells. However, if past is prelude, then Wall Street will happily lend Continental as much money as it wants.
Why would Hamm say one thing and do another? Well, he personally has accrued billions of dollars while his company has burned through billions.
Despite leading Continental to another money-losing year in 2017, Hamm took home a fat raise.
Correction: This article initially estimated the cost for 350 new wells at $400 million. The correct number is $4 billion.
Follow the DeSmog investigative series: Finances of Fracking: Shale Industry Drills More Debt Than Profit
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Arkilaus Kladit
My name is Arkilaus Kladit. I'm from the Knasaimos-Tehit tribe in South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. For decades my tribe has been fighting to protect our forests from outsiders who want to log it or clear it for palm oil. For my people, the forest is our mother and our best friend. Everything we need to survive comes from the forest: food, medicines, building materials, and there are many sacred sites in the forest.
Map of the Knasaimos traditional lands.
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By Farah Aqel
Overthinkers are people who are buried in their own obsessive thoughts. Imagine being in a large maze where each turn leads into an even deeper and knottier tangle of catastrophic, distressing events — that is what it feels like to them when they think about the issues that confront them.
Ruminating<p>According to the late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at Yale University, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796420/" target="_blank">ruminating</a> involves replaying a problem over and over in your mind. We ruminate by obsessing over our thoughts and thinking repetitively about various aspects of a past situation.</p><p>It usually involves regret, self-loathing and self-blaming. Rumination is associated with the development of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. </p><p>People prone to such patterns of thought may, for example, overanalyze every single detail of a relationship that breaks up. They often blame themselves for what has happened and are overcome with regret, with typical thoughts being: </p><p>- I should have been more patient and more supportive. </p><p>- I have lost the most perfect partner ever. </p><p>- No one will love me again.</p>
Worrying<p>Worrying is wanting to predict the future. It involves negative thoughts about things that might and might not happen.</p><p>- They'll not like me in the interview; they'll not give me the job. </p><p>- I haven't heard back from other employers. How long will I be unemployed?</p><p>These thoughts are energy-draining and distressing. They could happen to anyone under stress. But when you reach the point where your thoughts and worrying are preventing you from doing what you want to do — from living your life to the fullest — then you should take action.</p>
Catch Yourself Overthinking<p>Reuben Berger, a psychotherapist at the university hospital in the western German city of Bonn, recommends several practical steps that you could employ in your daily routine when you catch yourself worrying or ruminating.</p><p>One effective remedy, says Berger, is the <a href="https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uf9938" target="_blank">thought-stopping technique.</a></p><p>"When the negative thoughts come or ruminations start, you say to yourself: 'Stop!,'" he says, adding that it is more effective when you actually say the word out loud.</p><p>He even recommends having a rubber band around your wrist to ping against yourself while saying the word. Adding a visual component by imagining a stop sign also makes the technique more powerful, he says.</p><p>The main idea here is conditioning yourself to stop the loop of worrying (making future predictions) or rumination (obsessing over past events).</p><p>Berger says the technique could take up to two weeks to take effect and that it needs to be practiced every day. "Consistency is very important," he says. </p>
Thoughts Are Just Thoughts<p>Another way of dealing with negative thoughts often used in modern therapy is realizing that thoughts aren't facts, says Berger.</p><p>He says it is important when we think something to ask: Is that real? Did that really happen? What is the worst thing that could happen?</p><p>Flight anxiety is one example where untrue thoughts are accepted as facts. Although air travel is the safest way to get around, people suffering from fear of flying accept their thoughts and fears as reality, then act upon them by refusing to fly.</p>
Mindfulness<p>Berger also recommends the use of mindfulness techniques, in which attention is paid to experiences in the moment without judging them, as a way of reducing worrying.</p><p>"Mindfulness helps you to distance yourself from your thoughts and to be more present in the moment," he says.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3432145/#R2" target="_blank">Several studies</a> have shown that mindfulness has a positive impact on reducing stress-related behaviors such as rumination and worrying, as focusing on the moment makes anxiety about other problems impossible.</p><p>Mindfulness can be practiced during routine activities by paying attention to your body and your surroundings. For instance, when you leave for work in the morning, you can focus on sensing the breeze, listen attentively to birds, feel the gravel under your feet and monitor your breath. </p>
Trick Your Brain Into Happiness<p>People plagued by obsessive thoughts do not always choose healthy ways like mindfulness to distract from them, however.</p><p> Dr. Edward Selby, a psychologist at Florida state university, has shown in a study that people try to avoid rumination by engaging in a range of uncontrolled behaviors, such as binge eating and substance abuse.</p><p>But he says that a much better way to overcome such distress is by distraction and shifting attention away from problems that are obsessing us.</p><p>There are many activities that can be used to distract from rumination, he says, and people should choose the one that works best for them. Here are some examples:</p><p>- Listen to music</p><p>- Read a book</p><p>- Take a hot shower</p><p>- Dance or exercise </p><p>- Talk to a friend (not about the problem)</p><p>- Watch a movie</p><p>- Mindfulness meditation</p>
Changing the Perception of Events<p>The way people perceive a situation largely influences their emotions and behavior. It is not the situation itself that determines how they feel, but rather the way they interpret it.</p><p>Reframing negative thoughts can lead to positive emotions and, subsequently, healthier behaviors — including a reduction in damaging overthinking and worrying.</p><p>Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is currently a gold standard in psychotherapy. CBT aims to change the way people think and act. It largely involves challenging unhelpful beliefs or attitudes such as overgeneralization — thinking "I always fail at public speaking" when you have had one bad experience in front of an audience, for example — or "catastrophization," i.e., imagining the worst possible outcome to a situation. </p><p>A psychotherapist can teach people how to implement such thought-changing techniques into their lives. Techniques vary depending on their issues and goals.</p>
Solutions Are at Hand<p>Try to find ways of avoiding worrying, rumination and overthinking that make you feel most comfortable.</p><p>Incorporating any routine in your life when you're stressed isn't an easy task, but you can do it! If you feel overwhelmed, you can always seek professional help. </p><p><em>If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, <a href="https://www.befrienders.org/" target="_blank">at this website.</a></em></p>
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By Michael Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig and Nick Wilson
On Sunday, New Zealand marked 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.
Deaths From COVID-19 Per Million Population<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU0ODIyOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjkzMDc1OX0.7Yp1h1hokihlMJUurDukGmq-Y8NJB0V-07O1ukEjGt0/img.png?width=980" id="0fe6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bce85a610aee18e2f4f1c1caca7b8a0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
<div id="77fff" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce7b34f8986d3d36bee5d4d83ac0822c"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1292270210238447616" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">COVID-19 Update There are no new cases of COVID-19 to report in New Zealand today. It has been 100 days since t… https://t.co/Cz55ixGZUz</div> — Unite against COVID-19 (@Unite against COVID-19)<a href="https://twitter.com/covid19nz/statuses/1292270210238447616">1596936201.0</a></blockquote></div>
Getting Through the Pandemic<p>We have gained a much better understanding of COVID-19 over the past eight months. Without effective control measures, it is likely to continue to spread globally for many months to years, ultimately infecting billions and killing millions. The proportion of infected people who die appears to be <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.03.20089854v4" target="_blank">slightly below 1%</a>.</p><p>This infection also causes serious <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2815" target="_blank">long-term consequences</a> for some survivors. The largest uncertainties involve <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02278-5" target="_blank">immunity to this virus</a>, whether it can develop from exposure to infection or vaccines, and if it is long-lasting. The potential for treatment with antivirals and other therapeutics is also still uncertain.</p><p>This knowledge reinforces the huge benefits of sustaining elimination. We know that if New Zealand were to experience widespread COVID-19 transmission, the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3310086/" target="_blank">impact on Māori and Pasifika populations</a> could be catastrophic.</p><p>We have previously described critical measures to get us through this period, including the use of fabric face masks, improving contact tracing with suitable digital tools, applying a science-based approach to border management, and the need for a dedicated national public health agency.</p><p>Maintaining elimination depends on adopting a highly strategic approach to risk management. This approach involves choosing an optimal mix of interventions and using resources in the most efficient way to keep the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks at a consistently low level. Several measures can contribute to this goal over the next few months, while also allowing incremental increases in international travel:</p><ul><li>resurgence planning for a border-control failure and outbreaks of various sizes, with state-of-the-art contact tracing and an upgraded alert level system</li><li>ensuring all New Zealanders own a <a href="https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal-articles/mass-masking-an-alternative-to-a-second-lockdown-in-aotearoa" target="_blank">re-useable fabric face mask</a> with their <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12354409" target="_blank">use built into the alert level system</a></li><li>conducting exercises and simulations to test outbreak management procedures, possibly including "mass masking days" to engage the public in the response</li><li>carefully exploring processes to allow <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/16/preventing-outbreaks-of-covid-19-in-nz-associated-with-air-travel-from-australia-new-modelling-study-of-alternatives-to-quarantine/" target="_blank">quarantine-free travel</a> between jurisdictions free of COVID-19, notably various Pacific Islands, Tasmania and Taiwan (which may require digital tracking of arriving travellers for the first few weeks)</li><li>planning for carefully managed inbound travel by key long-term visitor groups such as tertiary students who would generally still need managed quarantine.</li></ul>
Building Back Better<p>New Zealand cannot change the reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But it can leverage possible benefits.</p><p>We should conduct an <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/11/five-key-reasons-why-nz-should-have-an-official-inquiry-into-the-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank">official inquiry into the COVID-19 response</a> so we learn everything we possibly can to improve our response capacity for future events.</p><p>We also need to establish a specialized national public health agency to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2017/12/20/the-havelock-north-drinking-water-inquiry-a-wake-up-call-to-rebuild-public-health-in-new-zealand/" target="_blank">manage serious threats to public health</a> and provide critical mass to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/02/05/a-preventable-measles-epidemic-lessons-for-reforming-public-health-in-nz/" target="_blank">advance public health generally</a>. Such an agency appears to have been a key factor in the success of Taiwan, which avoided a costly lockdown entirely.</p><p>Business as usual should not be an option for the recovery phase. A recent <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12353555" target="_blank">Massey University survey</a> suggests seven out of ten New Zealanders support a green recovery approach.</p><p>New Zealand's elimination of COVID-19 has drawn attention worldwide, with a description just <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2025203" target="_blank">published</a> in the New England Journal of Medicine. We support a rejuvenated World Health Organization that can provide improved global leadership for pandemic prevention and control, including greater use of an elimination approach to combat COVID-19.</p>
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