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The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters

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Everyone knew it was crazy to try to extract oil and natural gas buried in shale rock deep below the ground. Everyone, that is, except a few reckless wildcatters - who risked their careers to prove the world wrong.
  Things looked grim for American energy in 2006. Oil production was in steep decline and natural gas was hard to find. The Iraq War threatened the nation’s already tenuous relations with the Middle East. China was rapidly industrializing and competing for resources. Major oil companies had just about given up on new discoveries on U.S. soil, and a new energy crisis seemed likely.
But a handful of men believed everything was about to change. 

Far from the limelight, Aubrey McClendon, Harold Hamm, Mark Papa, and other wildcatters were determined to tap massive deposits of oil and gas that Exxon, Chevron, and other giants had dismissed as a waste of time. By experimenting with hydraulic fracturing through extremely dense shale—a process now known as fracking—the wildcatters started a revolution. In just a few years, they solved America’s dependence on imported energy, triggered a global environmental controversy—and made and lost astonishing fortunes.
No one understands these men—their ambitions, personalities, methods, and foibles—better than the award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Gregory Zuckerman. His exclusive access enabled him to get close to the frackers and chronicle the untold story of how they transformed the nation and the world. The result is a dramatic narrative tracking a brutal competition among headstrong drillers. It stretches from the barren fields of North Dakota and the rolling hills of northeastern Pennsylvania to cluttered pickup trucks in Texas and tense Wall Street boardrooms.

Activists argue that the same methods that are creating so much new energy are also harming our water supply and threatening environmental chaos.  The Frackers tells the story of the angry opposition unleashed by this revolution and explores just how dangerous fracking really is.
The frackers have already transformed the economic, environmental, and geopolitical course of history. Now, like the Rockefellers and the Gettys before them, they’re using their wealth and power to influence politics, education, entertainment, sports, and many other fields. Their story is one of the most important of our time.

GEORGE MITCHELL, the son of a Greek goatherd, who tried to tap rock that experts deemed worthless but faced an unexpected obstacle in his quest to change history.

AUBREY McCLENDON, the charismatic scion of an Oklahoma energy family, who scored billions leading a historic land grab. He wasn’t prepared for the shocking fallout of his discoveries.
TOM WARD, who overcame a troubled childhood to become one of the nation’s wealthiest men. He could handle natural-gas fields but had more trouble with a Wall Street power broker.
HAROLD HAMM, the son of poor sharecroppers, who believed America had more oil than anyone imagined. Hamm was determined to find the crude before others caught on.
CHARIF SOUKI, the dashing Lebanese immigrant who saw his career crumble and his fortune disintegrate, leaving one last, unlikely chance for success.
MARK PAPA, the Enron castoff who panicked when he realized a resurgence of American natural gas was at hand, one that his company wasn’t prepared for.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published November 1, 2013

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About the author

Gregory Zuckerman

11 books316 followers
Gregory Zuckerman is a Special Writer at The Wall Street Journal, a 25-year veteran of the paper and a three-time winner of the Gerald Loeb award -- the highest honor in business journalism.

Greg is the author of six books: A Shot to Save the World: The Inside Story of the Life-or-Death Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine; The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution; The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters; The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History; Rising Above: How 11 Athletes Overcame Challenges in Their Youth to Become Stars and Rising Above: Inspiring Women in Sports.

Greg lives with his wife and two sons in West Orange, N.J., where they enjoy the Yankees in the summer, root for the Giants in the fall, and reminisce about Linsanity in the winter.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 193 reviews
Profile Image for Naia.
61 reviews3 followers
December 1, 2014
As a professional geophysicist, people often ask my opinions of fracking. I do not work in this industry but many of my for university and professional colleges do. I have been searching for a neutral themed book explaining what fracking is, a brief history, and some explanation of the rise in popularity. However, this book fell short in every respect.

The Frackers reads like a novel, delving into the lives of a few individuals who played major roles of the popularity of unconventional oil and gas. The character developments are far too in depth for a business oriented book; though background is often important in the development of entrepreneurs, specific martial and family problems are not relevant. The author came off as very gossipy.

While reading, I often felt like the entire picture wasn't getting described. What were the roles of the major players (BP, Exxon, Shell)? If they were completely absent, wouldn't this warrant more discussion regarding their reasons? What about the big oil service companies (Halliburton and Schlumberger specifically)? I believe these companies did much of the drilling and fracking and were responsible for much of the technology? There was one sentence mentioning Halliburton did most of the drilling. But a better understanding of their role is needed to comprehend the bigger picture.

My biggest objection of the book was the complete ignorance of the technology that has allowed oil and gas to be extracted from unconventional sources (and more efficient extraction from conventional sources). These fields have been rediscovered because of the vast teams of geologists, engineers and geophysicists in the office and the fields crunching numbers, guiding the drill rigs, targeting the fracture locations and intensities. The author misleads all readers into thinking this was a revolution driven by lucky, testosterone driven, risk-taking wildcatters. Not one mention of microseismic imaging or propant development. I wasn't expecting a college textbook but by completely glossing over the innovations responsible for the energy revolution, one cannot get an idea of why we are pumping more product out of the ground. Not just any wealthy wildcatter can decide to drill a hole and get oil or gas, there is a lot more thought that needs to go into the process from the beginning to end. I also believe that by discounting the technology, this book contributed to the misrepresentation of the industry to the environmental activist sector.

If you happen to have this book on your shelf, I would recommend reading the last 120 pages. I did find interesting how each character dealt with the financial crisis. The Afterward contains some interesting, brief discussions of the environmental issues, possible global infrastructure problems, and the future of the industry. I felt the information in the end of the book was very useful, however, the first 280 pages just floundered.

Profile Image for Bob Costello.
103 reviews3 followers
December 12, 2014
Great book, almost gave it 5 stars. He tells the story of the people who made the fracking revolution in the last 6 to 8 years. There are so many positives for our country from this fracking revolution:
1.It has allow much of our energy supply to move from coal to natural gas. Emissions of U.S. carbon dioxide fell 12% from 2005 to 2012 due to this revolution.
2.Allows us to stop funneling money to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar. Cut off funds for Putin's adventures and weaken Arab support for Muslim terrorist. Maybe we won't need to spend money keep the strait of Hormuz open.
3. The major savings on transportation cost for American.

Zuckerman is a great storyteller - he gives the personal backgrounds of these incredible wildcatters who made this revolution. Most of them are rags to riches stories.

The interesting thing about this story is it could only happen in American due to two factor: entrepreneurial spirit and property rights. In most countries private citizens do not own the mineral right like we do in America. In other countries the government owns the mineral rights. The fracking revolution was made on private or state property and not on federal land.
Profile Image for Socraticgadfly.
990 reviews330 followers
January 28, 2014
Good technological and business review; just so-so environmentally

This book is especially valuable for people wanting to understand the technological issues behind both oil and gas fracking, and, related to that, a bit about petroleum geology and exploration in the "age of shale."

Zuckerman could have devoted a bit more than he did to environmental issues, and not put them in an appendix. He also could have included something about federal tax policy and related issues. And, he might have had better footnoting for some of his claims, his scientific claims.

That said, for the amount of information from the production side, even with those shortcomings, this is still a decent four-star book.

For anybody who has a general curiosity about fracking, to those wanting to know more about oil and/or gas development, and through environmentalist leaners wanting to know more about the issues, it's good.

It's also good on understanding the greed of several major players in the business, above all, Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake.

Per another commenter, Russell Gold's "The Boom" promises to offer different insights in a few months.
Profile Image for Karen Jackson.
21 reviews248 followers
November 16, 2019
Not knowing much about fracking, but wanting to know what all the controversy was about I chose this book to get me up to speed. It was a great book to start with. It provided history about fracking and identified the key players who made it happen. It also explained the interaction between the companies and state and federal governments; current through the end of 2013. It also touched on the state of fracking in other countries outside the U.S. I think this book is still relevant and recommend it as a good starting point for someone wanting to learn about fracking. It will provide the reader with the necessary framework to read and understand more detailed information about fracking.
Profile Image for B. Rule.
809 reviews23 followers
February 27, 2014
This book is a good introduction to the personalities behind the shale revolution in the U.S., an okay overview of the technological innovations that led to that revolution, and a cursory account of the controversies, environmental and otherwise, related to the field.

The author treats the actions of companies as the whims and will of single individuals at the top, which often leads to cutesy formulations where Great Men decide to take some daring move seemingly without any real motivation. It ignores the collective decision-making that takes place in firms and elides many of the complicated factors that go into such business decisions. Further, it strips a lot of consequence from the actions, leaving a weirdly airy account that doesn't do much to link together chains of causality. It's like reading YA biographies of presidents as an adult; you start to realize just how much is being occluded in the account and how what's left unsaid seems so much more interesting.

Zuckerman verges on hero-worship in some of his descriptions of the major players, and he totally downplays their critics and banishes the arguments of anti-fracking types to a brief appendix that basically concludes, "maybe everyone is a little bit right, but how can you stop this juggernaut of capitalism anyway?! Just lay back and let it roll over you like fog!"

The weaknesses of the approach are exacerbated by the magazine-lite quality of the writing. The narrative moves in fits and starts and the links between sections are clumsy. That said, I learned a fair amount about a limited number of players in the shale gas world, and it's a brisk read through a short but eventful period in that market. You could do worse if you're looking for a high-level overview of this controversial industry. You'll get to hear from some colorful characters at the very least.
Profile Image for Mike.
62 reviews5 followers
October 13, 2014
Very well written. Reads like a novel. Readers learn it ain't easy bein' a wildcatter. America's economy, energy independence and future depends on these wildcatters. If you don't know who they are and what they do, this is the book to read.
Profile Image for Breakingviews.
113 reviews33 followers
November 21, 2013
By Christopher Swann

The revolution in U.S. energy came from an unlikely source, as Gregory Zuckerman recounts in “The Frackers: the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters.” Tiny drillers like George Mitchell and Harold Hamm persisted with shale while deep-pocketed giants such as Chevron gave up. It was a triumph of leadership over short-term shareholder value.

Just six years ago the United States seemed destined for ever greater reliance on increasingly hostile Arab and Latin American nations to meet its energy needs. Worse, many respected energy experts, for example banker Matthew Simmons, credibly claimed that the globe faced a ruinous shortage of crude. A surge in the price of oil to a record $147 a barrel in June 2008 seemed just a taste of the economic pain to come.

“The Frackers” charts how a handful of small businessmen in America overturned these seemingly inexorable trends.

Hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique commonly known as fracking, opened up vast reserves of oil and gas previously thought inaccessible. The resulting surge in U.S. natural gas production has lowered electricity bills, and the 40 percent surge in U.S. oil output since 2008 was enough to compensate for lower output from the likes of Iran and Libya. By the end of the decade the technology will have created 2 million jobs, offsetting all the jobs lost in the housing crash.

Why did America’s oil giants lag behind unknown peers in fracking, despite their far greater resources? Largely because they focused too much on quarterly results and a narrow definition of shareholder value. In the late 1990s, for example, Chevron pulled the plug on $50 million of annual spending to develop fracking in Texas. Many investors in the $50 billion company would have admired the frugality and attention to returns.

In contrast, by 1997 oil minnow George Mitchell, whose Mitchell Energy had a market value of under $1 billion, had spent $250 million over 16 years to develop fracking in the same region. The obsessive spending looked like the height of irrationality, until Mitchell finally made fracking work. In August 2001 Devon Energy paid $3.1 billion for his company. Mitchell became a billionaire and an energy legend - when he was 82. It took another five or six years for shale drilling to become widespread in the United States and start boosting output of gas and oil.

Anyone who took up the shale baton had to be willing to take many years of heavy losses. Harold Hamm, founder of tiny Continental Resources, spent so much trying to develop North Dakota’s Bakken shale that profits all but evaporated. Yet by 2012 oil production from Hamm’s wells accounted for 10 percent of America’s oil output, earning him a $12 billion fortune, which is still growing.

“The Frackers” details the colorful exploits of Aubrey McClendon, co-founder of Chesapeake Energy. His willingness to brush aside shareholder caution enabled him to build the second largest gas producer in the United States from a standing start in the 1990s. Sadly the same stubbornness impelled him to continue spending far beyond the means of his company and to use Chesapeake as a personal piggy bank. Disgruntled shareholders booted him out in 2013.

The picture that emerges, then,from Zuckerman’s compelling account is a revolution driven by stubborn entrepreneurs – often over the objections of shareholders and more rational directors. By the time Exxon Mobil, America’s largest oil company, awoke to the implications of fracking, it had to pay top dollar to catch up, buying shale driller XTO for $31 billion.
Profile Image for liirogue.
585 reviews4 followers
June 24, 2018
Bitter-sweet read for me. I picked it up because I worked at Chesapeake for 10 years, including the last 5 years that Aubrey McClendon was CEO. I remember well the frenetic pace the company ran at and the way everything could change on a dime. It was stressful and exciting and everyone couldn't wait to see what Aubrey was going to pull off next.

There have been several important (to me, anyway) changes since this book was published in 2014. Chesapeake continues to struggle. The first round of layoffs occurred in 2013, and a third round was just done earlier this year. The company had 12,500 employees in 2011, and now has less than 3,000. The stock price has absolutely cratered. I hope the company can find a way to continue.

Aubrey had moved down the street from Chesapeake and started a new business, AEP, and for a while looked on track to create the next Chesapeake. However energy prices took a drastic dip in 2015 and his investors were beginning to force him to spin off parts of the company. Then in March 2016 Aubrey drove his car into a bridge a day after a Federal indictment was revealed. It was a shocking loss of a larger-than-life figure.

Tom Ward started his own new company after he was also forced out of Sandridge. He ran Tapstone for several years until he was again forced out by his investors in 2016. But maybe the 4th time is the charm - he founded yet another company, Mach Resources, in 2017.
Profile Image for Topher.
1,427 reviews
June 11, 2016
Given that I'm a PhD geologist, and teach a large number of students who plan to go into industry, I'm a bit surprised that it was a Motley Fool podcast that brought this book to my attention. I'm glad that it did though, as this is an excellently written history of the major companies involved in the fracking revolution.

It should be noted that the science behind what's happening is only briefly touched upon, as is the extent of the controversy surrounding fracking on the east coast. In general, the author takes a neutral stance, though the writing style does give it a pro-fracking flavor at times.

My only real complaint is that at times you could tell which portions of the text were previously published in magazine articles etc, thanks to the presence of "cliff-hangers" and other asides concerning impending doom.

I liked this enough that I will likely track down the author's book about the housing crisis (The Greatest Trade Ever) to see how it compares to The Big Short.
42 reviews
July 25, 2015
As the title says, this book is primarily a history of five or six prominent players in the shale fracking energy revolution. Some were lifelong wildcatters, others were simply investors interested in the oil and gas industry and the book focuses primarily on them and others to give a history of fracking in the US. The writing is excellent, the story flows smoothly, and the characters are quite colorful. From an Egyptian-born former restaurant owner to a high school educated wildcatter turned billionaire to engineers and geologists, the people described are fascinating as you follow their successes and failures in trying to drill for oil.

The author doesn’t focus too much on the technical details of the techniques and technology advances that made cost effective shale drilling possible, but he does give enough of an overview to give the reader an idea of what it took to make the energy revolution possible. The main action in the book starts in the early 1990s and ends in 2014. This is a great read and recommended for anyone interested in shale energy or just enjoys interesting character-driven nonfiction.
Profile Image for Ted Haussman.
357 reviews
August 26, 2014

Been awile since I rated a non-fiction book at 5 stars but this one was awesome. true, it covers a subject area that interests me a lot, but thought it was very well-researched and written. It did a great job discussing the race to develop fracking and horizontal drilling technologies and then grab promising drilling acreage while the complacent energy giants were sleeping or scoffing at the revolution in the making. It also does a nice job addressing some of the environmental arguments and touches upon the danger of the now disspiated "peak oil" fears of 10 years ago -- i.e., that we may become so used to business-as-usual with abundant natural gas and oil that it will stymie the push to alternative energy. The book gave me a lot of hope though because it shows what people can do when pushed to the brink of a complex problem and how solutions can be found.
Profile Image for Matt.
89 reviews8 followers
April 4, 2015
In the past year I've read three books by business writers about businessmen: The Powerhouse by Steve Levine, Console Wars by Blake Harris, and this.

All hagiographies written in the style of Michael Lewis. Console Wars is kind enough to namedrop Moneyball in the synopsis.

Publishers seem to think any business writer can write like Lewis can, and now every business book needs "characters." This is not something business writers appear capable of, and the result is books overlong with biographic detail of people you'll forget entirely a week after finishing the book.

The old "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people" thing. Perhaps this is too cynical, but the style of these books business, mixed with the type of access granted to business writers, makes these books read an awful lot like vanity projects.
Profile Image for SHNILA PARVEEN.
22 reviews13 followers
June 1, 2020
A word first used in 1970s in Battlestar Galactica as a substitute of a curse word, Fracking in oil industry means the technique of fracturing the rocks by pummeling them with various liquids to free up gas trapped in those rocks. The methods of producing oil has transformed over the course of history of oil. The seepage of oil from rocks was known to humans for centuries, which was usually wringed with clothes and towels. Drilling of oil wells was inspired from salt water drills. Fracking was a leap further by going into deeper reserves of gas and oil. Fracking has proved most successful in the drilling of Shale oil. But initially the Fracking was not intended for oil rather for natural gas.

This book revolves around the stories of Mitchell Energy, Chesapeake, Continental, Cheniere, EOG and later SandRidge. It begins with the ambitious plans of George Mitchell for the future of fracking which took painfully long period of time to prove a success, even for readers who kept expecting it to showcase its true potential. The story of Nick Steinesberger accidentally realizing the composition of fluid, which resulted in lowering the cost and making fracking an economical proposition is etched in the history of this new technique. But like fracking, the development of these companies was slow, dragged and full of failures.

An outsider in this story would be Cheniere of Charif Souki, which was interested in importing natural gas instead of fracking itself. It was pure turn of fate that the infrastructure built for import could be utilized to export the abundant natural gas.

If you are wondering why this book on oil does not feature any of the prominent oil companies, we are so familiar with, it is because all the major oil companies had given up on the declining domestic reserves and were lured by sumptuous reserves abroad. It was in such times that these enterprises took the risk of building the domestic US oil industry relying on domestic reserves with Fracking.

The environmental concerns of Fracking is also briefly touched upon with dismissal of any real threat of Fracking. The only major concern admitted with natural gas is the seepage of methane gas which writes off any advantage earned by reduced CO2 emission.

This book does not have a very good rating and after reading it I have realized the possible reasons. The lengthy, stretched and unnecessary detail of life, events and conversations of the men behind these companies were so easily dispensable. There is a haphazard organization of the book, with no real sequence, title to chapters or interconnection. You will find yourself feeling like skipping a lot of content because it will have no relevance later. I understand the book is about fracking, but some of the major events in the history of oil have been just littered here and there without much emphasis. Overall, this is a quick and most up to date read on Fracking, which could have been much better and much shorter.
Profile Image for Shawn.
Author 6 books40 followers
November 19, 2022
My rating might be a bit harsh. The book is not bad; it just wasn't quite what I was expecting. It is much more a business book than anything else. Particularly in the last third, the focus becomes more about stocks, board rooms, and finance than fracking. The first third or so was interesting in terms of laying out the history of both the development of the techniques as well as the individuals involved. I would have liked a bit more on this. I didn't want a geology lesson, but wanted more focus on the novelty of fracking and how the various innovators and engineers along the way improved the process. The middle part focused more on the building of the companies that were the driving force in this American oil and gas production revolution. The afterward was in some ways the most interesting for me. It discussed the criticisms and responses to criticisms about the dangers and consequences of fracking. Zuckerman takes an appealing moderate approach: as he says, the worst dangers of the fiercest critics are overblown, but it is not the harm-free process the industry would like it to be. Zuckerman argues that many of the dangers can be mitigated by improving industry standards and regulatory oversight. Still, I would have liked this discussion to be more in the main section of the book, and better explored. The afterward also gets into the geopolitics of the shale revolution. This too was very interesting and should have been more in the main sections of the book. But then, that really wasn't the book Zuckerman was writing. He wants to the tell story of the businessmen who are created and stoked this revolution. And he does a great job of that.
Profile Image for Monzenn Mallari.
291 reviews
April 17, 2023
It almost got to a five for me. The positives are the extensive use of the featured people, the balanced narrative among them, and the surprise ending. The negatives are partly the less interesting topic for me (fracking is fine, but it got a bit too much into the science for my taste - I personally like the business part better), as well as its unusually hard stance on alternatives at the afterword. On a good day I may give this five stars, but for now it is okay to be at four.
Profile Image for Xingjian Zhang.
4 reviews1 follower
January 16, 2018
A very compelling story of the wildcatters behind the shale oil & gas revolution. It helped me understand the personalities/backdrop/culture/spirit that has shaped these E&Ps and the whole energy industry, which I cannot get from the research reports. When people refer to a comp sheet of E&P stocks, trying to understand the dispersion in the valuation multiples, management premium/discount is one that is least explained yet possibly most important.

My four takeaways,
1. " Hold on to it" Chevron could have found the fracking recipe, too. When Mitchell Energy was doing all the tests in Barnett in late 1990s, Chevron was also trying in the Eagle Ford. Yet the big oil turned out much less persistent than the smaller independent. However, George Mitchell did not hold on till the end either. He sold the company "too early" to Devon after the initial fracking success, leaving the breakthrough opportunity for Devon through combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
2. "Against the conventional wisdom". Such cases occurred multiple times in the book: (A) invention of the hydraulic fracturing: experts warned of water, yet young Nick Steinsberger succeeded in using water to frack. (B) searching for oil: big oil rejected the possibility of more big reserve in the US, yet independents found the best place to drill is their backyards. (C) Energy business model: while the wallstreet cheered Enron's sexy trading business, Mark Papa held the belief in the oil exploration business. (C) Continental Resources: while the industry believed Barnett is the hottest place to drill, Continental decided to test the potential in the least favored North Dakota
3. "Cursed by their own success". Chesapeake succeeded by the debt financed land acquisition, but was also knocked down by the huge debt burden. McClendon, Ward, Souki were all ousted founders, they succeeded through their wildcatter spirit, yet the flip side of that is greed and big ego. Also, the E&P industry boomed due to the technological success, and then busted due to the same reason: they are just too successful, productive, leading to low commodities prices.
4. " Prepare for the macro change/surprise". The divergence of EOG and CHK can attribute to their history, management, culture etc. The macro bet Mark Papa made in 2007 was definitely an important factor: He foresaw the forthcoming gas glut and directed the company towards oily fields. Macro bet can also be wildly wrong: When Souki sought to build the LNG import terminal in early 2000s, the idea was endorsed by Alan Greespan, contracts were signed with Dow, ConocoPhilips, Total, Eni, and some funding came from Blackstone and John Paulson. This demostrated that none of these big names expected the surging domestic gas production, which soon forced the terminal to be exporting, instead of importing.

All these relate to the wildcatter spirit, yet relevant to portfolio management as well.
A quote from the book (P164) on the wildcatter spirit:
"In many ways, the widlcat profession is quintessentially American. It takes a heavy does of self assurance and comfort with risk to bet on what might or might not be far below the surface, well out of sight, as well as unbridled optimism that Americans seem to have in abundance"
133 reviews12 followers
January 31, 2014
This great book tells the story of the shale gas revolution in the US. For anyone who hasn’t picked up a newspaper in 5 years – the US has gone in the course of a decade from needing to import natural gas to being in a position to export it around the world, due to burgeoning production from shale formations in the US that had been overlooked and considered non-producible for decades. Its one of the most dramatic energy stories in history, but I can imagine many boring ways to tell it. Zuckerman thankfully chooses to focus on some of the individual people responsible for driving the shale boom (Mitchell, McClendon, Ward, Hamm, Souki), and it makes for very lively reading. These guys are characters – several of them grew up dirt poor (like, no-toilet-in-the-house poor) in parts of Texas and Oklahoma and went on to become billionaires through their persistent efforts to unlock gas from shale (and then have to take elocution classes so they don’t sound like such hayseeds when talking to investors). One is a charming good ol boy who “could sell ice to eskimos in a snowstorm” and another is a Lebanese immigrant. Zuckerman focuses on the “billionaire wildcattters” who founded the companies involved in shale, but he does a good job of looking at all the people that made it possible – the landmen who literally went door to door purchasing mineral rights, and the scientists and engineers who actually figured it all out. Ive worked with exploration geologists and they are an infectious group to be around – passionate about their subject, dreaming about the big find – these are the guys to whom I would pose a simple question at a cocktail party and then end up in a corner of the room an hour later with the guy drawing on napkins and explaining middle Miocene formations and rock permeability.

I had known the shale gas story in broad strokes, but there is a great portion of the book that explains the precise well in the Barnett that basically proved the feasibility of extracting shale gas – and part of it was an accident! The sub-contractor mixed the fracking fluid incorrectly and it ended up being much more effective at getting the gas to flow. So it was the accumulation of two technology breakthroughs – horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing- plus a fluke process tweak that made shale gas really go. Its sort of like that old Reeses Peanut Butter cup commercial where people carrying the peanut butter and the chocolate run into each other, creating deliciousness. I’m sure Zuckerman has compressed the real history to dramatize it, but I don’t mind – it makes for good storytelling.

Several times while reading this book I was struck by how American a story it is – creating something from scratch in the face of widespread doubt and skepticism, the power of optimism and perseverance, and a huge amount of debt. The latter actually makes for a sad ending, as several of these companies become victims of short sellers and activist investors who push out the founders who built the company in order to drive the stock higher.
Profile Image for Davy Bennett.
152 reviews4 followers
December 18, 2022
Great. Great book. I live in Houston and have years of service in the valve biz. Real look at these guys.
Not woke that I recall.
Profile Image for Marci.
139 reviews
April 18, 2014
I read this rather slowly, in an attempt to digest the larger issues surrounding energy production and consumption. Overall, the book did a good job of presenting the economic drivers of fracking. It was surprising to learn that the oil giants were not the ones driving the search for natural gas, but rather a few visionary, ambitious, and well, greedy, wildcatters and the investors holding the purse strings. Not a lot to say about the environmental consequences of fracking, which is what began my interest in learning about the topic, although issues were briefly recapped. The most salient messages I come away with is that the successes of fracking have led to more U.S. energy independence (good); natural gas is cleaner than coal (also good); there are real environmental concerns and a seeming lack of regulation (bad). Most troubling is that the success of fracking and the abundance of domestically produced natural gas and oil comes at the expense of exploring and fully developing truly clean, renewable energy sources. The financial incentives behind solar and wind alone don't seem to be there, and consumers as a whole seem complacent with whatever powers our lives, as long as the price is right. It is definitely a complex issue and I shall continue my exploration.
Profile Image for Richard.
203 reviews10 followers
October 3, 2019
It's a quick, fast-paced read of the history behind the colorful risk-takers who transformed the US from a country perilously low on oil to a net exporter. Good reminder of how wrong conventional expert wisdom can be, and the lucrative rewards for (some of) those who persevere despite the long odds. Only in America...
Profile Image for Kunal.
113 reviews
November 20, 2014
A 'fracking' enjoyable read. As expected most of the book covers the story of how the misfits who believed that a shale oil and gas revolution succeeded (all to some degree) The story is journalistic whilst incorporating biographical openings for all the book major players. The level of research done here looks very comprehensive if you believe all of the detail with regards to the conversations minute information presented within the book.

The book tells a story that has it's root deep in the american dream i.e. rags to riches, entrepreneurial hardship and getting back up if you get knocked down (many times in some cases) Well worth reading if you have even the slightest interest in oil, gas or just a simple story of how some men defied the notion that energy 'Made in the USA' was a thing of the past.
Profile Image for Evan.
581 reviews10 followers
July 10, 2014
This was a well written and interesting book. I watch a lot of Mad Money and read the wall street journal, so I was familiar with much of the story. I also experienced some of the horrible ride on the Cheasapeake stock rollercoaster. ;) I found the beginning of the story, the part about George Mitchell, to be the most interesting. I had not heard it before, and it detailed the history of fracking. I also liked the parts on Continental Energy. I thought the book was a little heavy on McClenndon and Ward, but before this, I never realized how instrumental they were in the natural gas revolution. If you are interested in energy, the stock market and fossil fuels, you will enjoy this book.
1 review1 follower
July 19, 2014
Very engaging and informative inside information. I live in the Barnett Shale and know another story exists that was not covered ..... The lies and deception of many, if not most operators ...... The downside for powerless landowners ...... The environmental hazards that have very little regulation. I agree with George Mitchell that natural gas is the only solution till we are weaned off fossil fuels to renewables. Also the geo- political aspect was new information and an eye-opener. If you have strong opinions on either side of the fracking issue, this is a good starting point.
Profile Image for Ben Horne.
62 reviews1 follower
December 3, 2017
The Frackers was a sensational story. Greg's analysis of how a few dynamic figures revitalized the energy industry was informative. The technology surrounding fracking was fascinating. Also enjoyed Greg's ability to connect specific business events surrounding the leaders and companies to the overall economy. I share Greg's opinion on the ethics of fracking and environmental issues involved that there are two always sides of the coin. Not necessarily a quick read, but provides solid understanding of the oil and gas industry, key players, and this revolutionary time period.
Profile Image for Randy Christie.
11 reviews
May 17, 2018
Having just started a business operating in the oil and gas sector, and in Oklahoma, where much of the events in the book takes place, it was truly an enlightening read.
Well written, with several larger than life characters whose lives are intertwined the book kept me turning the pages eager to find out how they succeeded or failed in their various endeavors.
As entertaining as it was illuminating, it had several pertinent take away points for my business strategy packaged in a very enjoyable format.
I would highly recommend it.
213 reviews10 followers
January 29, 2020
A fun read as the author goes into the history of some of the most famous wildcatters out there and walks through the seminal events of their personal lives and careers. Some very interesting stories, as one might suspect, and the book goes through the boom & bust of the shale revolution.
Profile Image for Stefan.
108 reviews
December 30, 2016
Nice inside look at the incredible risk it takes to become extremely wealthy for those interested in business and investing.
86 reviews
July 10, 2020
The Frackers is a story of instinct. A story of radical hope. And a story of the failures that imbue eventual success in any fledgling industry.

Gregory Zuckerman tremendously succeeds in telling that story. He traces the development and lineage of natural gas and oil fracking in the United States by presenting this complicated information in narrative form, winding the reader through the triumphs, losses and plot twists, from the nascent to the eventual thriving days of modern natural gas and oil drilling in the United States. The quest is told from the perspective of wannabe tycoons, known in some circles as wildcatters, who sought new, exciting and what some may consider crazy, ways to tap natural gas and oil resources in a nation where such promising possibilities often went overlooked for decades.

On an individual level, Zuckerman's story compels. He captures curiosity and gently forces the reader into caring about the fate and fulfillment of these entrepreneurial potentates. On a macro level, Zuckerman canvases the energy industry's changing landscape across the U.S., from its prospector-driven roots to its mega-corporation, investor-subsidized modernity, with all the seismic shifts and barely perceived undulations in between.

One shortcoming: Zuckerman casts the dye a bit too narrow in this multi-protagonist opus. Some of the players, such as Aubrey McClendon, receive extended, outsized focus, while numerous others, who undoubtedly made contributions just as valuable, get short shrift. The scope and scale of McClendon's contributions cannot be denied, nor his brash willingness to double-down financially and take unmitigated risks. Nevertheless, all of the wildcatters followed by Zuckerman took risks, some calculated, some seemingly preposterous. Perhaps the recess of time might allow for a more leveled perspective. This book was written with U.S. gas drilling at its zenith and McClendon, no doubt, as its flagship captain.

Another knock: Zuckerman gives little more than cursory mention to the naysayers, the large contingent of NIMBY citizens who led a sustained outcry against drilling. Ultimately, this outcry gained more traction than these entrepreneurs or perhaps even Zuckerman himself prefer to acknowledge. But it has to be dealt with on a more proportional scale. While Zuckerman briefly covered the resistance pockets, his explanations felt token at best. At least one state still will not allow fracturing.

Overall, The Frackers brings excitement and humanity to subject matter that otherwise belongs in a textbook. The reader may not become enthralled but certainly may encounter a few a-ha moments and enjoy the momentum this book builds throughout. One can't help but feel curious and tied to the fate of these interesting characters who operate in the crevasses between financial risk and monumental discovery.

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