Hot & Bothered: Has the Fracking Bubble Finally Burst? with Bethany McLean

Hot & Bothered: Has the Fracking Bubble Finally Burst? with Bethany McLean

The fracking boom that drove a decade of record U.S. oil and gas production was never really profitable to begin with. Has its bubble finally burst?

(Courtesy of Bethany McLean)

On April 20, oil prices did something they’ve never done before. The value of West Texas Intermediate crude, a U.S. benchmark, dipped below zero for a few hours—trading as low as negative $40 a barrel.

“I don’t think any of us can really believe what we saw today,” one industry analyst told AP. “This kind of rewrites the economics of oil trading.”

Like so many other facets of the COVID-19 crisis, however, this unprecedented crash exposed long-running cracks in the facade. The fracking boom that drove a decade of record U.S. oil and gas production was never really profitable to begin with. Has its bubble finally burst?

This week, Kate and Daniel talk to Bethany McLean, author most recently of Saudi America: The Truth about Fracking and How It’s Changing the World as well as the bestselling The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, with Peter Elkind. 

In this episode, McLean—who has tracked the industry’s shaky footing for years—traces the ups and downs of the industry from the 1970s to 2008 to today, and assesses whether a new recession will speed the transition away from fossil fuels—or hand oil barons a life raft.


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Check out the full Hot & Bothered archive here. Hot & Bothered is produced by Colin Kinniburgh. Music: Mercurias Meet Victor Rice, “Carregar (Instrumental),” courtesy of Total Running Time.

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Further reading

The Next Financial Crisis Lurks Underground (Bethany McLean, New York Times)

Coronavirus May Kill Our Fracking Fever Dream (Bethany McLean, New York Times)

Fracking, explained (Brad Plumer, Vox)

Are Crude Oil & Natural Gas Prices Linked? (Adila Mchich, CME Group) 

Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds (Sarah Ann Wylie)

The Fracktivists (Colin Kinniburgh, Dissent

Oil Fall (Gregor Macdonald) 

Kate: A Moderate Proposal: Nationalize The Fossil Fuel Industry (The New Republic)


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