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Report: Natural Gas Insiders Question Feasibility, Profitability of Industry

HeadlineJun 27, 2011

Newly disclosed figures and internal documents are raising fresh doubts about natural gas drilling in the United States. According to the New York Times, well-placed financial analysts and experts have circulated warnings about the feasibility and profitability of drilling in shale gas wells across the nation. An August 2009 memo from the firm IHS Drilling Data says, “The word in the world of independents is that the shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes and the economics just do not work.” Earlier this year, an analyst at PNC Wealth Management compared natural gas projects to the dot-com boom, saying, “money is pouring in” even though drilling is “inherently unprofitable.” In another memo, a retired geologist for a major oil giant writes, “These corporate giants are having an Enron moment… They want to bend light to hide the truth.” A review of more than 9,000 wells shows many wells are failing to meet industry projections, with just 10 percent recouping their estimated costs after seven years. Just 20 percent of wells in three highly regarded shale formations in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas are believed to actually be profitable. The previously undisclosed data could raise questions about whether companies are illegally inflating claims about the size and productivity of their wells. A former Enron executive who went on to work for an energy company compared the behavior of shale gas firms to his former employer, writing, “I wonder when they will start telling people these wells are just not what they thought they were going to be?”

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