Stranded shale assets send a warning to Argentina and others
There is no denying that there has been a production boom in both fracked oil and fracked natural gas in the US But it has been a financial disaster for producers and investors. Cash flows from fracking-focused oil and gas companies across the country have been negative for decades — even when oil and gas prices were higher than they are now.
Frackers, in fact, have spilled billions of dollars in red ink. A recent analysis of 29 fracking-focused companies produced by the Sightline Institute and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis showed aggregate negative cash flows of $184bn between 2010 and early 2019.
This red ink has spilled from companies fracking for natural gas in Appalachia, and for oil in the Permian Basin.
Bankruptcies have mounted. Since 2015, 174 North American oil and gas producers have filed for bankruptcy protection, according to law firm Haynes & Boone, restructuring nearly $100bn in debt largely through write-offs. Bankruptcies will continue as oil and gas borrowers must repay or refinance several hundred billion dollars of debt over the next six months. Meanwhile, natural gas production has boomed, creating a glut, and deepening the financial distress for oil and gas producers around the world.
There is also a glut in natural gas produced in the Permian fields that frackers either burn off (flaring) or pay to have transported. Gas producers throughout the world are desperately seeking to export their product overseas, primarily to Asia. Part of the glut has been blamed on infrastructure issues in the Permian basin. But, as the article notes, Argentina’s infrastructure problems are far greater.
Given the failure of frackers to create a viable business model, Argentina should not seek to replicate the shale boom. It should instead look towards innovative new models of sustainable energy and economic growth such as those being pursued in neighbouring Chile and Uruguay.