Do you remember George Orwell’s invention for ‘1984’ of double-speak? The Ministry of Love was really the Ministry of Hate and so on.
There’s some loud double-speak going on at the moment to encourage shale-gas extraction. The Church of England in one quarter has rushed to suggest it will ‘help the poor’ with cheaper bills (though experts believe this is unlikely) and Cameron suggests it will usher in boom times.
But the reality seems to be the complete reverse. Read this from one of the world’s most articulate and knowledgeable commentators on environmental and energy issues, Archdruid John Michael Greer:
Big oil names Shell and BHP Billiton are writing down the value of their shale assets by billions of dollars. Meanwhile the value of oil and gas-related transactions, among the top profit centers for Wall Street every year since 2005, has dropped like a rock and, unless something changes drastically, won’t even make the top five list this year.
Nor is this happening solely on Wall Street; out in shale country, too, the boom is grinding to a halt. The pace of drilling in the Fayetteville shale has dropped precipitously this year; in Texas, meanwhile, gas production from the Barnett Shale has dropped more than a billion cubic feet a day, to levels last seen in 2009; while in the Marcellus Shale country of Pennsylvania, insurance companies are starting to cancel homeowners insurance and home mortgages are becoming unavailable as the health and environmental toll of reckless shale development piles up.
Headlines of this sort are becoming increasingly common in the financial press as one month gives way to another. With utter predictability, so have articles and essays in the mainstream media crowing about the supposed end of peak oil, and financial-advice columns urging the general public to get out there and invest their life’s savings in shale oil and gas. Those who recall the way the housing bubble played out over its last year or two will recall this same phenomenon: as the fundamentals turned sour, the chorus of pundits praising the arrival of a new age of prosperity for all got louder and louder, until the crash of collapsing prices finally drowned it out.
Exactly how long it will take for the shale bubble to tip over into full-scale bust probably can’t be known except in hindsight. The same principle probably applies just as well to another question that may be even more explosive: just how much of Wall Street and the broader US financial industry depends on income skimmed off the shale bubble for its economic survival. It’s when the tide goes out, as Warren Buffet famously said, that you find out who’s been swimming naked; when the bubble bursts and companies with heavy exposure to the fracking industry can no longer cover their day to day costs by tapping into the money flows any speculative boom attracts, the consequences could fall anywhere along the spectrum from sharp regional recessions in shale country all the way to panic selling on global markets and a reprise of 2008’s economic turmoil.