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The oil industry hype machine

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Eric Gay/AP/File

(Read caption) A drilling rig is shown near Kennedy, Texas. In shale plays, what will ultimately be economical to extract will actually be only a tiny fraction of what is technically recoverable, Cobb writes.

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What would you expect them to say?

That's the question you should ask whenever spokespersons for the oil and gas industry (or fake think tanks funded by the industry or analysts whose bread is buttered by the industry) announce a new find that is going to be a "game-changer" (or bigger than another well-known world-class field or enough to make America energy independent again).

Prepare yourself for another hype cycle in the U.S. oil and gas industry. The industry says it has found a deposit of oil that may turn out to be the largest in the world. The deep tight oil deposit goes by the name Spraberry/Wolfcamp and is located in West Texas. It's no surprise then that the industry is trotting out the America-as-the-new-Saudi-Arabia theme once again, a theme that many including me have shown to be pure bunkum.

And, the chief executive officer of Pioneer Natural Resources Company, which is currently touting its dominant position in the Spraberry/Wolfcamp deposits, added some bunkum of his own when he told The Dallas Morning News, "We’re more like a manufacturing operation than a traditional oil drilling operation.” This is the discredited notion that in tight oil and shale gas deposits, a company can drill anywhere and extract economical volumes of oil and/or natural gas. The idea has been discredited by the record of every tight oil and shale gas deposit drilled to date, deposits which settle down into a pattern of tightly focused "sweet spots" where drillers can make money and vast areas that are not profitable to drill--mainly because the oil and natural gas are too difficult to get out. 

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