Podcast: Gail Tverberg: The Shale Oil Boom is More “Mirage” than “Miracle”:Chris Martenson

By | December 12, 2013

Gail Tverberg: The Shale Oil Boom is More “Mirage” than “Miracle” with Chris Martenson

Gail Tverberg, is a professional actuary who applies classic risk assessment procedures to global resources: studying issues such as oil & natural gas depletion, water shortages, climate change, etc. She is widely known in the Peak Cheap Oil space for her reports issued across energy websites over the years under the penname “GailTheActuary”.

In this week’s podcast, Chris asks Gail to assess the merits of the shale oil “revolution”. Does it usher in a new Golden Age of American oil independence?

With her actuarial eyeshade firmly in place, Gail quickly begins discounting the underlying economics behind the shale model:

We have to ask: At what price is the oil available? Is this shale oil available because prices are high and in fact, because interest rates are low, as well? Or is it available if it were cheap oil with interest rates at more normal levels?

I think what we have is a very peculiar situation where it is available ,but it is available only because of this peculiar financial situation we are in right now with very high oil prices and very low interest rates.

The shale oil plays are going to be probably much less than a 10-year flash in the pan. They are very dependent on a lot of different things, including low interest rates and the ability to keep borrowing – which could turn around very quickly. Lower oil prices would tend to do the same thing. But even if you hypothesize that we can keep the low interest rates and that the oil price will stay up there, under the best of circumstances, the Barnett data says they probably will not go for very long.

You know, when you take how long the payout really is on those wells, I think the companies drilling these plays have been very optimistic as to how long those wells are going to be economic. There was a recent study done saying just that: 10 years or 5 years; but certainly not 40 years.

And so these companies put together optimistic financial statements that have the benefit of these extremely low interest rates. They keep adding debt onto debt onto debt. How long can they continue to get more debt to finance this whole operation? It’s not a model that anybody who is very sensible would follow.

Similar to many energy experts Chris has interviewed prior, Gail looks at the math and concludes that humans (especially those in the West) have been living on an energy subsidy that is beginning to run out. We have been living outside of our natural budget, and will be forced to live within what remains going forward. As a result, she expect great changes in store for the next several decades: socially, politically and lifestyle-wise.

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