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How Fracking is Blowing up the Balance Sheets of Oil and Gas Companies

Fracking has caused an uproar in local communities and split some in two. It has brought environmentalists to a boil. It allegedly caused tap water to go up in flames. Documentaries have been made in its honor. It causes earthquakes in Oklahoma and other places. It causes Wall Street to froth at the mouth. And now it is causing the balance sheets of oil and gas companies to blow up.

It always starts with a toxic mix. Now even the Energy Department’s EIA has checked into it and after crunching some numbers found:

Based on data compiled from quarterly reports, for the year ending March 31, 2014, cash from operations for 127 major oil and natural gas companies totaled $568 billion, and major uses of cash totaled $677 billion, a difference of almost $110 billion.

To fill this $110 billion hole that they’d dug in just one year, these 127 oil and gas companies went out and increased their net debt by $106 billion. But that wasn’t enough. To raise more cash, they also sold $73 billion in assets. It left them with more cash (borrowed cash, that is) on the balance sheet than before, which pleased analysts, and it left them with a pile of additional debt and fewer assets to generate revenues with in order to service this debt.

It has been going on for years. In 2010, the hole left behind by fracking was only $18 billion. During each of the last three years, the gap was over $100 billion.

A Bloomberg analysis of 61 companies drilling for shale oil and gas found that debt among them nearly doubled over the past four years, while revenues inched up only 5.6%. And interest payments on that ballooning debt is taking up an ever larger portion of the revenues – even at today’s record low interest rates – with 12 of the companies already paying over 10% of their revenues in interest.

The financial hype around fracking, the limitless, nearly free liquidity provided by the Fed since late 2008, and investors so desperate for yield that they’re willing to incur just about any risks in their vain battle to come out ahead have had Wall Street frothing at the mouth. The boundless stream of money has been searching for a place to go, and it went to an economic activity – fracking – where money goes to die. What’s left is debt, and wells, especially gas wells, that will never produce enough to pay off the debt that was incurred to drill them.

— excerpted from an article by Wolf Richter writing for Naked Capitalism.

To read Wolf Richter’s complete article, click here.

 

 

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