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Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World

Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It's Changing the World


Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World


Bethany McLean


“A sharp portrait of the US shale revolution.” — Financial Times

Bestselling author Bethany McLean reveals the true story of fracking’s impact — on Wall Street, the economy and geopolitics.

The technology of fracking in shale rock — particularly in the Permian Basin in Texas — has transformed America into the world’s top producer of both oil and natural gas. The U.S. is expected to be “energy independent” and a “net exporter” in less than a decade, a move that will upend global politics, destabilize Saudi Arabia, crush Russia’s chokehold over Europe, and finally bolster American power again.

Or will it?

Investigative journalist Bethany McLean digs deep into the cycles of boom and bust that have plagued the American oil industry for the past decade, from the financial wizardry and mysterious death of fracking pioneer Aubrey McClendon, to the investors who are questioning the very economics of shale itself. McLean finds that fracking is a business built on attracting ever-more gigantic amounts of capital investment, while promises of huge returns have yet to bear out. Saudi America tells a remarkable story that will persuade you to think about the power of oil in a new way.


About the Author

Bethany McLean is the co-author of the bestseller The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron with Peter Elkind. Her second book, which she co-authored with Joe Nocera, is All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis. Her most recent book is Shaky Ground: The Strange Saga of the U.S. Mortgage Giants. She is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and lives in Chicago.

Product details

  • Paperback: 138 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia Global Reports (September 12, 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0999745441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0999745441
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces

Buy Now Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World




Editorial Reviews:

Named one of Vanity Fair’s 11 Nonfiction Books to Read this Fall

800-CEO Reads Editor’s Choice: “McLean exposes the faulty foundation not only of our supposed energy independence, but of the very desire for it….The sloganeering of “drill, baby, drill,” and the false, geopolitically fraught hope of energy independence it implies, ignores these basic business, economic, and existential human realities. In exposing them, McLean offers hope for a more reasonable discussion, a more sustainable and profitable industry, and, perhaps, a more integrated energy policy.”

“As journalist Bethany McLean sketches with clarity and concision in this book, the shale revolution has had profound effects on the US, creating jobs and cutting energy costs, but many of the claims made for it have been overblown….Unlike some who have taken a skeptical view of the shale industry, McLean is not trying to debunk it–those who have tried have been made to look foolish by its success in recent years — but she does urge us to be cautious about being too trusting.”– Financial Times

“Bethany McLean explores fracking’s nuanced success, but also cautions that this energy revolution is not the country’s golden ticket to energy independence.”–NPR, Marketplace

“McLean, who was a co-author of the bestseller The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, has tapped into the recent history of the U.S. oil and gas boom. She describes geology in plain English, recounts the rise and fall of one of the country’s most flamboyant shale gas tycoons, and studies the political consequences of a United States that is far less dependent on oil imports than it was just a decade ago.”―The Washington Post


USA Energy Impact

Bethany McLean is a talented writer with books as The Smartest Guys in the Room and Shaky Ground. Both were outstanding and informative reads, with the Enron book (Smartest Guys) about the various personalities and corporate malfeasance highlighted. Her current book, Saudi America, is somewhat brief, but an easy read.

I have read several ‘fracking’ books (don’t misread this term!) with Gregory Zuckerman’s ‘The Frackers‘ being a detailed history of fracking. It reveals individuals as George Mitchell, Harold Hamm, Nicholas Steinsberger, Kent Bowker, Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward, Charif Souki, Mark Papa and other pioneers in the hydraulic fracturing process development. Mrs. McLean concentrates on Aubrey McClendon, a most interesting and high profile oil and gas leader, who met an untimely end, March 2nd, 2016. Her Epilogue contains the reason for writing the book and possible outcomes for American energy production. Energy production in the USA a few years ago was heading down the ‘Peak Oil’ slope. OPEC and especially Saudi Arabia and Russia must wonder if the shale revolution will continue with American ingenuity discovering more oil and natural gas.

Kennedy: A compelling, highly readable look into our energy future

Bethany McLean, the writer who may forever be cast as ‘the reporter who broke the Enron story’, takes us on a far more compelling and far-reaching journey here, and in a tightly compact 130 pages: that of how shale oil and natural gas are shifting global economics both more and less than we think.

I hadn’t realized that fracking (or fracturing, as the industry would prefer) is in many ways a short-term game, with unclear future supply, much more expensive and precarious than traditional vertical oil drilling, and that natural gas is truly where the U.S. can lead the game. If, of course, we ever get around to implementing a sensible, logical national energy policy that ensures our own future without destabilizing the world. Logic and sense are of course completely off the table with a President who seems focused on preserving coal, which could push other countries back into a reliance on this dirty, outdated form of energy, but happily this administration seems an increasingly temporary scenario.

With Saudi America McLean expertly weaves a story of shale’s first shady billionaires, a profitability model that is almost entirely reliant on close-to-zero interest rates, and how countries like China and even Saudi Arabia are opening up a huge lead over the U.S. when it comes to renewables. My only quibble is that very little mention is made of nuclear power, which in its fourth-generation model could provide a huge chunk of our energy with flawless safety, but which seems the red-haired stepchild for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, that’s not McLean’s focus here. What she has done is expertly problematized the upside and the downside of “Drill, baby, drill,” even when the drilling is mostly horizontal.

Brian LaRocca: Excellent primer on the Fracking Revolution

Maybe some experts in the field will quibble with Bethany McLean’s analysis of the American Energy industry but, for a novice like myself, this was an engrossing read. It is amazing that so much wealth has been amassed in such a quiet manner. I had never heard the stories of Pegula, Hildebrand, the Wilks, Wilson and Flores but many of them are billionaire investors in the field.

The industry’s brashness is personified in Aubrey McClendon. What an amazing protagonist to have as the author weaves the violent swings in his personal fortunes with those of the expanding and collapsing energy industry. “Asking me what to do with extra cash is like asking a fraternity boy what to do with the beer.” That swashbuckling braggadocio created an empire that has had trouble standing on foundations built on overly optimistic models.

The book is littered with fascinating nuggets like:

  • – unassuming Enron spin off EOG is valued more than what Enron was at its peak
  • – Chesapeake had years where it pumped more gas than any American company not named Exxon Mobil
  • – in 12 years, North Dakota went from ninth to second in oil production among states
  • – Wells use 12 million pounds of sand, up from 4 million only a few years ago
  • – Permian production alone produced more energy than 8 of 13 OPEC countries

I like the way McLean concludes the book. She seems pessimistic about the industry’s future by citing, for instance that Bakken wells decline by 70% in the first year and quotes Einhorn on his analysis that from 2006-2014 the industry spent 80 billion more than it earned. She moderates this with analysis that gas will remain plentiful and perhaps a useful geopolitical tool. And that for every Chesapeake, there are conservative operators like EOG that can be profitable at considerably lower oil prices.

William E. Mitchell: Good material, unevenly edited

Good book worth buying and reading. The actionable insight for investors: we still don’t know whether fracking will turn out to have been profitable at historically normal interest rates — and the evidence we do have suggests not.

The book comes off as rushed, not quite ready for publication. The sections of the book don’t quite follow logically, and the chronology is confused. There are a few dangling partial sentences and missing words. In the worst case, there are these two sentences, nearly identical but with facts that don’t match, both containing grammatical errors, within one page of each other.

“In the years following its IPO, Chesapeake was one of the best-performing stock [sic] on Wall Street, climbing from $0.47 per share to $34.44 per share.”

And one page later:

“In the years following its IPO, Chesapeake was one of the best-performing stocks on Wall Street, climbing from $1.33 a per [sic] share (split adjusted) to almost $27 per share.”

Careless for someone of McLean’s stature. Presumably the fault is not with the author, but instead with whoever was supposed to be copy editing at Columbia Global Reports, the publisher.

Despite this, the content is good and worth buying.


Charles Chuck Campbell: An Accurate Book

I have been directly or indirectly associated with the international and domestic petroleum industry all of my life and have advised on and taught petroleum investments to the engineers of the major oil and gas companies around the world . From my perspective this is a very good book.

The author did her research, asked pertinent questions, questioned the stories given by many in the domestic petroleum industry, and condensed a complex global industry with an uncountable number of interdependent subsets and variables into a balanced, flowing and succint narrative that is easy to read.

Like her other books, this book should be read by those who thrive on being mentally engaged and enjoy learning what the truths might be.

Emanuel Martin
Emanuel Martin is a Petroleum Engineer graduate from the Faculty of Engineering and a musician educate in the Arts Faculty at National University of Cuyo. In an independent way he’s researching about shale gas & tight oil and building this website to spread the scientist knowledge of the shale industry.

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