Interview: Gregory Zuckerman, Author of “The Frackers” and Award Winning Wall Street Journal Reporter

Gregory Zuckerman The Frackers Wall Street Journal Envestor First

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.

Envestor First is pleased to interview the author of “The Frackers,” Gregory Zuckerman:

Envestor First (EF): After some years of covering stock and markets for the Wall Street Journal, how did you end up choosing to write a book covering the evolution and advent of Fracking and the people behind it?

Gregory Zuckerman (GZ): To me, this is the most important business story right now. The energy revolution impacts the economy, geopolitics, the environment and more, in very dramatic ways. And the characters and drama are compelling.

EF: For many years the US has been dependent on foreign oil, namely oil from the Middle East. The US Shale revolution is changing that level of dependence now. How do you see the new US Energy resources and reserves changing geopolitical dynamics in the coming years?

GZ: The U.S. will become energy secure, though not independent. What I mean by that is we will depend on just friends, such as Canada and Mexico, and see less reliance on the Middle East and places like Venezuela. As a result, we could feel less impetus to send troops to t Middle East and become involved there. I don’t thin it’s a coincidence that Saudi Arabia asked the US to get involved in Syria a year ago and we didn’t. We don’t care as much what Saudi Arabia thinks, partly because we’re producing so much of our own oil.

EF: How do you see an abundance of cheap natural gas being produced in the US changing America’s fortunes in global manufacturing competitiveness?

GZ: We will have an economic advantage over the rest of the world for years to come, thanks to lower energy costs.

EF: With surging natural gas production in the US how do you view the future for US in terms of becoming a leader in NG, CNG and LNG production and exports?

GZ: We’ll eventually export both LNG and oil.

EF: The US has obviously been the early innovators and leaders in fracking and unconventional production technology. How do you see this technology spreading to other areas of the world and do you see the US losing their leadership position in this area in the near future as the technology spreads to other areas of the world?

GZ: It will take years for other countries to catch up. Shale formations full of oil and gas exist all over the world. But the US has mineral rights, access to fresh water, pipelines, capital markets, mapped out geology and more that others don’t have. And we have risk taking entrepreneurs.

EF: According to recent reports United States has surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil. Do you see the US maintaining this production leadership over the next decade or two?

GZ: Well, the oil surge will slow over the next decade or so. Nat gas should continue to be strong.

EF: As of April of this year (2014) the US still imported an average of 7.5 million barrels of crude per day. Do you ever see that number dropping to zero or even switching to net positive in terms of crude exports exceeding imports?

GZ: It probably won’t drop to zero. But we’ll only have to rely on Canada and Mexico.

EF: How do you see this US Energy boom affecting the US Dollar against other international currencies?

GZ: At the margin will help the dollar, for sure.

EF: According to some economic sources, there’s a strong linkage between oil production growth, economic growth and wage growth across a range of U.S. states. How do you see this US oil boom affecting the overall US economy in the coming decade?

GZ: Right now it’s adding about 1% to GDP. That seems about the level it will be over the next decade.

EF: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of new jobs in the oil and gas industry increased by roughly 270,000 between 2003 and 2012. This is an increase of about 92% compared with a 3% increase in all jobs during the same period. How do you see this job growth playing out in the US over the next 10 years?

GZ: You also have to include jobs in industries benefiting from lower energy prices, such as chemicals, cement, fertilizer and more. Some economists estimate it will be 2 million jobs added, or about how many we lost in the housing downturn.

EF: What has surprised you in this upstream oil & gas boom?

GZ: The architects of this American energy revolution weren’t ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and all the biggest global energy companies. It was a group of unlikely, colorful, stubborn wildcatters and entrepreneurs.

About Gregory Zuckerman:

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN is a Special Writer at The Wall Street Journal and author of “The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters,” a national bestseller published November 2013 by Portfolio/Penguin Press describing how a few unlikely individuals created an American energy resurgence. He also wrote “The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History,” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller published December 2010 by Crown Business/Random House. The book has been translated in nine languages.

At the Journal, Greg writes about big financial trades, hedge funds, private-equity firms, the energy revolution and other investing and business topics. In the past, Greg was the lead writer of the widely read “Heard on the Street” column and has covered the credit markets for the Journal.

In 2014, Greg wrote a story revealing the discord between Bill Gross and Mohamed El-Erian that led to El-Erian’s departure from bond powerhouse Pimco. In 2012, Greg broke the story about the huge, disastrous trades by J.P. Morgan’s “London Whale.” He was part of a team that won the 2007 Gerald Loeb award — the highest honor in business journalism — for breaking news coverage of the collapse of hedge fund Amaranth Advisors, and he was part of a team that won the 2003 Gerald Loeb award for breaking news coverage of the demise of telecom provider WorldCom. Greg also was part of a team that won the New York Press Club Journalism award.

Greg also was a finalist for the 2011 Gerald Loeb award, for investigative news coverage of the insider trading scandal and was a finalist for the 2008 Gerald Loeb award, for coverage of the mortgage meltdown.

He appears regularly on CNBC, Fox Business, Yahoo Finance and various television networks, and he makes regular appearances on National Public Radio, BBC, ABC Radio, Bloomberg Radio and radio stations around the globe. Greg gives speeches to business groups on a variety of topics. Over
the past year, he has spoken to groups in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Fort Worth, Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix, London, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv.

Greg joined the Journal in 1996 after writing about media companies for the New York Post. Previously, he was the managing editor of Mergers & Acquisitions Report, a newsletter published by Investment Dealers’ Digest. He graduated from Brandeis University in 1988, Magna Cum Laude. He 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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