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Oil Prices Are Dropping But The Shale Revolution Rolls On

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Why the free fall in oil prices this year won’t jeopardize the US fracking revolution.

$75 dollars a barrel – that’s the price crude oil would have to hit for frackers in North Dakota’s Bakken fields to feel pressure to slow new production, according to Greg Zuckerman, author of “The Frackers” and a special reporter at the Wall Street Journal. “All these guys have hedged. They’ve got production [and] they’ve already got the acreage. They’re not gonna stop but maybe they’ll kind of slow new stuff.”

Fracking in other parts of the country, though, is likely to be much more resilient. In Texas’s Eagle Ford and Permian basin, Zuckerman says oil prices would have to drop as low as $60 a barrel for production to be impacted.

Which is to say – don’t think the free fall in oil prices this year will jeopardize the fracking revolution.

“There’s a challenge, [frackers are] going to make less money; you’ll see a slowdown in production. But the revolution’s going to continue,” said Zucerman. “I would argue that we’re only in sort of, maybe, the third inning even of a long, impressive revolution. And so this will slow things down but I don’t think it’s going to stop the revolution.”

Estimates say the fracking industry in the US was some $26 billion dollars in 2013, up from $18.4 billion in 2012. That’s still just a fraction of the overall oil and gas industry in the United States – but it’s clearly one that’s growing. There are global players, however, that are interested in keeping hobbling America’s fracking industry – and those happen to be the same interests that have a hand in driving the price of crude down.

“The Saudis are trying to target the US [shale] revolution,” explained Zuckerman. “If you lower prices than you can challenge some of the frackers because it’s not cheap to frack. To do this horizontal drilling the kind of process that we’re doing to get all this oil and gas that’s exploding from this country – we’ve gone from 5 million barrels a day to 9 million in just about 5 or 6 years – so it’s an expensive process. And the Saudis aren’t thrilled with the competition. But the Saudis have other kind of agendas, too. They don’t love what the the Iranians are doing; they’re trying to target them [and] the Russians as well. So they’re playing a lot of cards here.”

Russia is also key in the fracking revolution. Because Russia supplies most of the natural gas to Europe, it has a key position of influence – one we saw come to the forefront during Russia’s skirmishes with Ukraine this summer. An increase of US natural gas production could help free Europe form that kind of Russian grandstanding, says Zuckerman.

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