With the boom in unconventional oil and gas development, the petroleum industry is ready to rock and roll. I guess that is why the Rolling Stone Politics page did an article on March 1 called “The Big Fracking Bubble: The Scam Behind The Gas Boom” by Jeff Goodell. I don’t know the author’s background, but it doesn’t seem to be the oil business. He mentioned that Kerr-McGee was the ExxonMobil of its time. I don’t recall Kerr-McGee ever being called one of the Seven Sisters of that -- or any -- time like Exxon and Mobil were before those companies merged. Chesapeake Energy and hydraulic fracturing were the main targets of the piece. He noted that Chesapeake blasts apart rocks and pumps natural gas to the surface. Blasting apart rocks conjures up some other visualization of how the fracturing occurs rather than using pressurized water to create cracks in the formation. I’m not sure how the oil company is “pumping” gas to the surface, but later in the story the author did correct that point, saying that the oil and gas flowed to the surface. The article compared the current unconventional gas boom to the sub-prime mortgage mess before that industry went south. He didn’t mention, though, that the same boom is providing jobs and expanding the economy, which in turn is bringing us out of the recession fueled by the sub-prime mortgage fiasco. Chesapeake, the author pointed out, has 15 million acres under lease, and, to paraphrase the article, has turned “large swaths of farmland into industrial moonscapes.” Those must be much larger drilling pads than I thought the company was using. With its recent farm-outs, the company is more like Enron than ExxonMobil. Goodell quoted someone that is said to be a Texas energy consultant, who likened Chesapeake’s financial operations to a Ponzi scheme and accused the industry of “magical thinking.” The author does like those Oklahoma oil hands -- Aubrey McClendon, Robert S. Kerr and T. Boone Pickens. It must have been something endemic to the state that had all of these native sons in the oil and gas business. The article did mention one Texan -- George Mitchell -- as the reason for hydraulic fracturing leading to the unconventional gas boom. This is a tongue-in-cheek look at the article. It is a mix of facts and a rehash of all the negative information regarding hydraulic fracturing. The article cherry picks phrases designed to be inflammatory – “dire warnings from scientists and environmentalists,” “junk bonds,” “convoluted off-book accounting,” “dark underbelly of fracking,” “Ponzi scheme,” and “Enron” to name a few. Regardless of whether you agree with the author or not, the article is reaching a definitely different audience. In 2011, Rolling Stone’s circulation was 1,467,739, according to Wiki-pedia. There is no telling how many others, like me, saw it on the Internet and read it. After all, you don’t see many oil and gas articles in Rolling Stone. Of course, with most media outlets these days, sensationalism sells. The idea for the media is that the more outlandish the article, the more people will read the publication or watch the television show (National Enquirer and any "reality" show are prime examples). The more people that read or watch, the more advertising can be sold. And, that media is taking the oil industry to task for the way it does business. This kind of publicity does point to the need within the industry to get its message out to a wider audience using all sorts of outlets -- social media, Internet, documentaries (Gasland), and even the Rolling Stone. It’s time to rock and roll. Contact the author, Scott Weeden, at email@example.com.
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