The Frackers

by Gregory Zuckerman, 2013

Everything you ever wanted to know about fracking. Very detailed. This book was one of the books about oil that the Economist recommended. Thanks to the perseverance against all odds by a few determined men, the U.S.A went from being dependent upon OPEC for energy to being an exporter of energy. But it is so difficult to get oil and natural gas from rock. It took decades to figure out how to do it – horizontal drilling and up to 30 stages of fracking. Supposedly, the process does not cause earthquakes, or pollute underground water ways, although that is not definite. We have fracking spots all over northeastern Colorado, and when we drove to Steamboat, there is one in North Park right alongside the highway.

It turns out that Europe has oil and natural gas, too, but they don’t allow fracking because they are so populated and don’t have the wide open spaces that the U.S.A. has. Poland actually tried fracking but they would have to go too deep, (16,000 feet), to get to the oil, and that’s not feasible. The UK is an excellent candidate for fracking, but the Crown owns the mineral rights and it makes it very difficult to frack. Also, they are so populated and the population is against fracking.

The major US oil companies, like Exxon, were not involved in fracking. They had given up on oil in America and were working overseas when these independent companies like Mitchell Energy and Chesapeake finally got it going and became billionaires. That’s when Exxon and Chevron came back to America.

It’s a very good, detailed book, but since it is 10 years old, I really want to know what’s going on now. I googled, “Is the US still exporting natural gas?” A Reuter’s article from Sept 9, 2022, came up and we are the biggest exporter of LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) in the world.

He describes the history, lives and personalities of the main people responsible for making the US into a oil and natural gas powerhouse via fracking, and their various companies:

  1. George Mitchell of Mitchell Energy: It took 17 years but his people finally figured out how to frack and get oil out of the Barnett Shale in Texas. George Mitchell wanted natural gas to be used as a cleaner alternative to oil and coal while allowing renewables to advance in the meantime. He conceived and built The Woodlands community in Texas.
  2. Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward who started Chesapeake Energy: Oklahomans who took fracking mainstream and bought and leased land all over the US and fracked and fracked and fracked. He describes how rich they both were, but Aubrey especially was over-the-top wealthy. Twenty million dollar homes, $100,000 wine collections, etc. Aubrey made Oklahoma City into an upscale city with his donations and influences. He and Tom Ward were both forced out of their companies, though, after the 2008 downturn. I Googled Aubrey McClendon and he died in a single-vehicle crash in Oklahoma City–he ran into a concrete overpass in Oklahoma City and died instantly at 9:12 a.m. on March 2, 2016. Sounds like suicide. This was the day after he was indicted by a federal grand jury for violating anti-trust laws while CEO of Chesapeake Energy from 2007-2012. Tom Ward is still alive and is still in the energy business. He currently runs Mach Energy. Former companies were Chesapeake Energy, SandRidge Energy, and Tapstone Energy.
  3. Charif Souki, the Lebanese immigrant who dreamed of importing Liquid Natural Gas and started a company, Cheniere, and held out hope against all odds, eventually turning it into a LNG exporting company. It is the first company in America to export LNG in 2016. He grew up in Lebanon and learned to ski in the mountains of Lebanon. His persistence was amazing.

There are a few others described in detail, too: Harold Hamm and Mark Papa. He also describes the town of Williston, North Dakota, when Harold Hamm finally figured out how to get oil and natural gas out of the Bakken. It sounds like a horrible town – no place for anyone but the dregs of humanity. The Walmart parking lot was where many of the oilmen lived and it was dangerous for women to walk through that parking lot. Streets were being built so fast, Google maps couldn’t keep up.

I end up rooting for the frackers. I totally forgot about nuclear power, the true answer in my opinion. Maybe there will be a book someday about the people who, against all odds, finally got rich on nuclear power. America is the place where this type of thing can happen because most of our land is not owned by the government, an individual can get wealthy beyond their wildest dreams through their hard work and persistence, and we have lots of wide open spaces.