Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Bakken Multiplier

Money is often viewed as a limited resource, often controlled by some out of proportion to others. That is why so many want to redistribute it. But money can be viral. Like success.

Take the Bakken area, a rock formation in North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan. A research paper by Dow initially projected the formation as a potential oil source. Leigh Price, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologist, wrote a paper declaring the shale site had  petroleum  reserves that ranged from 271 billion to 503 billion barrels. Estimates have changed (up and down) and there has always been the concern over the accessibility of the oil; it is technically challenging. However, recently the USGS released a report estimating the amount of technically recoverable, undiscovered oil in the Bakken formation at 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels.

This is a huge find and companies have moved in with division strength. Ports have been refitted to allow the exporting of petroleum where they used to be dedicated for importing. It is estimated that ports like McAllen, Texas will be exporting in 3 to 4 years. And the market is huge as well. Gas costs between $3.50 to $4.00 in the U.S.; in Japan it is over $15 and in Europe it is in double digits. (Interestingly, the Russians, Europe's largest gas source, has professional writers that follow American debates over gas drilling and write "reporting pieces" for the European press trying to discourage drilling in Europe to maintain their monopoly.)

The impact is more than local, although it is locally impressive. Unemployment in the Bakken region is 1%. Pay in a fast food restaurant is $10-15 an hour. The oil rigs pay up to $350,000 a year to the guy who runs it (no college degree required) and starting salary on the rig is $120,000 a year, with no experience. These areas are remote, dangerous and uncomfortable to work in but that means they also need trucks to bring the petroleum to shipping sites; salary for oil-truck drivers is $150-175,000 a year.

Shale gas will add about 0.5% to the growth of US GDP next year, in a year when we will be lucky to get 2%. But there is more. The Financial Times wrote recently, "Europeans are already complaining that cheap US gas is encouraging a flight of energy intensive businesses [to the US]. How can, say Europe's chemical producers – buying expensive Russian gas – compete with US rivals guaranteed access to cut-price feedstock?”

Success grows. Like money.

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