Would you like to have a gift? Take Oil! A few moments ago Brent Crude falls below $0 a barrel. That's the first time in history you can get something that is not money – money is under water since the interest rates are below zero in Europe. Oil now is so cheap that producers are paying to stockpilers to take barrels off their hands, on ships, in tanks, everywhere...
Yes, it is a crash to the weakest levels ever seen since 1983. But it is is the end of an era too: Last Friday's marked close of $18.27 a barrel was a problem for the US frackers. The historic collapse of today is the death sentence for them. It shows that the market is betting the OPEC+ production cuts announced earlier this month aren't enough, because the demand caused by the pandemic is so low. No one out there needs oil anymore. And so it ends a story that seems like a fairytale until this day.
Follow me to Texas, where is was happen.
A red wind is blowing over Texas State Highway 349, dust is in the air, crimson dust that penetrates everything and makes your teeth grind. The nose, on the other hand, between Midland and Big Lake, recognizes the scent of a bygone era. It smells like Leuna, Buna, Bitterfeld. An oily smell wafts greasily across the endless pastures where cows are calmly chewing grass in front of oil rigs.
Welcome to the most dangerous road in the Permian Basin, welcome to the place where the world has been changing for several years. The fact that petrol is currently as cheap at petrol stations in the whole wide world as it was five years ago is the fault of the people here in the red steppe. They have also made sure that heating oil becomes cheaper and cheaper in the middle of winter.
The price is expensive. Seen from space, the whole Midland County around its capital of the same name and the nearby twin community of Odessa looks as if the earth had smallpox. The prairie stretches endlessly, where former US President George W. Bush grew up. And every few hundred meters a so-called horse head pump nods in the same rhythm: up, down, squeak, up, down, squeak.
Driling towers anywhere
But these cast-iron nickel donkeys are the past. The future has been changed by the much less picturesque drilling towers of the fracking plants. These are small metal scaffolds and containers that look less like "Dallas" and Bobby Ewing than like prefabricated garages and DIY store cisterns. They stand alone and lost on the endless plain. No sound, nothing moves.
José Pacheco knows that's not true. Pipelines run everywhere between the lonely installations, says the 27-year-old, who comes over to Texas from Mexico every Sunday evening to lay more pipes to even more fracking plants here week after week. From the Petroleum Museum on the outskirts of Midland, it's less than 200 meters to the first well, which is not part of Texas' great oil history, but a lucrative new discovery.
Pipes, pipes, pipes
"We've laid pipes everywhere," says José Pacheco, "thin ones lead to thicker pipes, the thick ones to even thicker pipes." None of the pipelines are very long, because the business with the cracked oil is different from the production in the past. "A year, a year and a half, two at the most," says José Pacheco, "then nothing comes from below and we dig the pipeline out again." Meanwhile, drilling crews have already drilled new holes at another location from which oil can continue to be pressed.
The whole thing takes a week, two at the most, after which the drilling scaffold disappears, looking like a descendant of the towers from "Dallas" and old Indian movies. All that remains are prefabricated garages, cisterns from DIY stores and invisible pipes through which oil flows to other pipelines or collection containers.
"Lots of work, lots of money," he says shrugging. One should not drink the water from the tap in the whole area, he warns. But there is bottled water for it, says the Mexican, who can look over from his cheap motel room to his current workplace. They work there day and night, under glaring spotlights. Time is money. "And most of what people say against it is bullshit."
Not enforced in Europe
The "thing", that is the pumping of oil by the "hydraulic fracking" method, which does not simply drill a hole in an oil bubble and wait for what comes up. More happens during fracking: a mixture of water and chemicals is pressed from above to a depth of 3,000 meters under several hundred bar pressure. Down there, it ensures that oil and gas bound in the rock is broken out and pressed upwards. In Europe, the process from the 1940s has never been able to establish itself. Too much fear of environmental damage, too much fear of long-term consequences for nature and people.
At more than 108 US dollars than a few years ago, what lies in the ground is worth twice as much as it is at only 52 dollars. If the price is zero for the most of the producers it is too expensive to extract.
Suddenly it becomes more difficult to find new money for new wells. And now, at pandemic times with Corona the big oil bonanza ends like a dance around the golden calf when suddenly the music stops: In the past few weeks alone, the price of oil is fallen from $55 to $20 and below. The first small companies have had to file for bankruptcy. And in Texas, a country full of people with indestructible optimism, rumors are circulating about loans worth billions that are no longer being serviced and could trigger a new severe financial crisis.
** If you like my work please follow me Travelfeed**