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Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It's Changing the World Paperback – September 12, 2018
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800-CEO Reads Editor's Choice: "McLean exposes the faulty foundation not only of our supposed energy independence, but of the very desire for it....The sloganeering of “drill, baby, drill,” and the false, geopolitically fraught hope of energy independence it implies, ignores these basic business, economic, and existential human realities. In exposing them, McLean offers hope for a more reasonable discussion, a more sustainable and profitable industry, and, perhaps, a more integrated energy policy."
"As journalist Bethany McLean sketches with clarity and concision in this book, the shale revolution has had profound effects on the US, creating jobs and cutting energy costs, but many of the claims made for it have been overblown....Unlike some who have taken a skeptical view of the shale industry, McLean is not trying to debunk it--those who have tried have been made to look foolish by its success in recent years -- but she does urge us to be cautious about being too trusting."-- Financial Times
"Bethany McLean explores fracking's nuanced success, but also cautions that this energy revolution is not the country's golden ticket to energy independence."--NPR, Marketplace
"McLean, who was a co-author of the bestseller The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, has tapped into the recent history of the U.S. oil and gas boom. 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."―The Washington Post
"Who cares about another crooked, over-compensated CEO? Bethany McLean does. She is the co-author of the brilliant dissection of the Enron scandal The Smartest Guys in the Room, and has written a slim book called Saudi America for Columbia Global Reports. The book suggests McClendon’s life is more than just a tale of a greedy, white, male executive whirling through the upper echelon of American life. McClendon was fracking incarnate. And we need to understand fracking because it may be the cause of the next economic collapse." -- Los Angeles Review of Books
About the Author
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outstanding and informative reads, with the Enron book (Smartest Guys) about the various personalities and
corporate malfeasance highlighted. Her current book, Saudi America, is somewhat brief, but an easy read.
I have read several 'fracking' books (don't misread this term!) with Gregory Zuckerman's 'The Frackers' being
a detailed history of fracking. It reveals individuals as George Mitchell, Harold Hamm, Nicholas Steinsberger, Kent Bowker, Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward, Charif Souki, Mark Papa and other pioneers in the hydraulic fracturing
process development. Mrs. McLean concentrates on Aubrey McClendon, a most interesting and high profile
oil and gas leader, who met an untimely end, March 2nd, 2016. Her Epilogue contains the reason for writing
the book and possible outcomes for American energy production. Energy production in the USA a few years
ago was heading down the 'Peak Oil' slope. OPEC and especially Saudi Arabia and Russia must wonder if the shale
revolution will continue with American ingenuity discovering more oil and natural gas.
I hadn't realized that fracking (or fracturing, as the industry would prefer) is in many ways a short-term game, with unclear future supply, much more expensive and precarious than traditional vertical oil drilling, and that natural gas is truly where the U.S. can lead the game. If, of course, we ever get around to implementing a sensible, logical national energy policy that ensures our own future without destabilizing the world. Logic and sense are of course completely off the table with a President who seems focused on preserving coal, which could push other countries back into a reliance on this dirty, outdated form of energy, but happily this administration seems an increasingly temporary scenario.
With Saudi America McLean expertly weaves a story of shale's first shady billionaires, a profitability model that is almost entirely reliant on close-to-zero interest rates, and how countries like China and even Saudi Arabia are opening up a huge lead over the U.S. when it comes to renewables. My only quibble is that very little mention is made of nuclear power, which in its fourth-generation model could provide a huge chunk of our energy with flawless safety, but which seems the red-haired stepchild for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, that's not McLean's focus here. What she has done is expertly problematized the upside and the downside of "Drill, baby, drill," even when the drilling is mostly horizontal.
The book comes off as rushed, not quite ready for publication. The sections of the book don't quite follow logically, and the chronology is confused. There are a few dangling partial sentences and missing words. In the worst case, there are these two sentences, nearly identical but with facts that don't match, both containing grammatical errors, within one page of each other.
"In the years following its IPO, Chesapeake was one of the best-performing stock [sic] on Wall Street, climbing from $0.47 per share to $34.44 per share."
And one page later:
"In the years following its IPO, Chesapeake was one of the best-performing stocks on Wall Street, climbing from $1.33 a per [sic] share (split adjusted) to almost $27 per share."
Careless for someone of McLean's stature. Presumably the fault is not with the author, but instead with whoever was supposed to be copy editing at Columbia Global Reports, the publisher.
Despite this, the content is good and worth buying.
The industry's brashness is personified in Aubrey McClendon. What an amazing protagonist to have as the author weaves the violent swings in his personal fortunes with those of the expanding and collapsing energy industry. "Asking me what to do with extra cash is like asking a fraternity boy what to do with the beer." That swashbuckling braggadocio created an empire that has had trouble standing on foundations built on overly optimistic models.
The book is littered with fascinating nuggets like:
- unassuming Enron spin off EOG is valued more than what Enron was at its peak
- Chesapeake had years where it pumped more gas than any American company not named Exxon Mobil
- in 12 years, North Dakota went from ninth to second in oil production among states
- Wells use 12 million pounds of sand, up from 4 million only a few years ago
- Permian production alone produced more energy than 8 of 13 OPEC countries
I like the way McLean concludes the book. She seems pessimistic about the industry's future by citing, for instance that Bakken wells decline by 70% in the first year and quotes Einhorn on his analysis that from 2006-2014 the industry spent 80 billion more than it earned. She moderates this with analysis that gas will remain plentiful and perhaps a useful geopolitical tool. And that for every Chesapeake, there are conservative operators like EOG that can be profitable at considerably lower oil prices.