Manual Reckless: The Rise and Fall of the City

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The fracking boom has been fuelled mostly by overheated investment capital, not by cash flow.

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  2. Fracking – the reality, the risksand what the future holds.
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For a brief moment in history, he most represented US fracking to the world. Just one day earlier, a federal grand jury had indicted him for violating antitrust laws during his time as the CEO of Chesapeake Energy. Investigators ultimately ruled his death an accident, but rumours of suicide persist to this day. During his years as an oil and gas tycoon, he fed on risk, and was as fearless as he was reckless. He built an empire that at one point produced more gas than any American company except ExxonMobil. Stories abound about how, at industry conferences, executives from oil majors like Exxon would find themselves speaking to mostly empty seats, while people literally fought for space in the room where McClendon was holding forth.

But if it was a con, he was conning himself, too. Because he believed. He was, in many ways, the embodiment of a transformation that has changed the face of not just the oil and gas industries, but of geopolitics as well.

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  • I n the darkest days of the collapse of oil prices in the mids, McClendon, as ever undeterred, saw an opportunity in assembling packages of drilling rights — for gas, not oil — either to be sold to bigger companies or to be drilled. In the mere existence of that opportunity, America is almost unique, because it is one of the few countries where private citizens, rather than governments, own the mineral rights under their properties.

    In order to drill, you just have to persuade someone to give you a lease. That, it turned out, would make him the perfect person for the new world of fracking, which is not so much about finding the single gusher as it is about assembling the rights to drill multiple wells. Neither Ward nor McClendon were technological pioneers.

    That distinction, most people agree, goes to a man named George Mitchell, who drew on research done by the government to experiment on the Barnett Shale, an area of tight rock in the Fort Worth basin of North Texas. On 12 February — a day McClendon would later describe as the best of his career — he and Ward took Chesapeake public. So McClendon and Ward simply switched accounting firms. They got in some good places because they shut everyone else out. That made some people millionaires, but it wreaked havoc on others. Nor was he frugal when it came to his personal life.

    He had one of the best wine collections in the world. To Wall Street investors, McClendon was delivering on what they wanted most: consistency and growth.

    Fracking – the reality, the risksand what the future holds

    His pitch was that fracking had transformed the production of gas from a hit-or-miss proposition to one that operated with an on and off switch. It was manufacturing, not wildcatting. B ack in , when McClendon was just getting started, the consensus view had been that the US was running out of natural gas.

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    It became a fixation for Alan Greenspan, the once-revered chair of the Federal Reserve, who warned Congress during a rare appearance that the shortage and rising cost of gas could hurt the American economy. Greenspan recommended that the US build terminals to accept deliveries of liquefied natural gas from other countries. Such fears eventually helped push through the Energy Policy Act of , which exempted natural gas drillers from having to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, thus averting costly regulatory oversight.

    As fracking took off, McClendon began telling anyone who would listen that the US had enough natural gas to last more than years. He was adamant that employees should drive cars fuelled by compressed natural gas. At the same time, Vladimir Putin was making similar bets. In an attempt to set up a cartel for gas, the Russian premier hosted a group of gas-producing countries, including Algeria, Iran, and Venezuela, in Moscow. The US was not among them.

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    The time of cheap energy resources, cheap gas, is surely coming to an end. When the going got rough, McClendon had always survived by borrowing yet more money to acquire more properties.

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    • But he had forgotten the flipside of that industry truism. Mayor John Tory open John Tory's policard has already publicly taken them to task for their casual approach to start time. No matter. Maybe it has always been this way, but in the age of Twitter, where journalists and average residents are free to report the proceedings in real time, we get to see more of just what unfolds.

      Reckless Reichmanns

      It cannot find enough money for seniors or homeless people. It routinely raises the fares for public transit while leaving those who drive cars and trucks undisturbed. But for a subway extension that stretches out to Vaughan? This money was rubber-stamped without appropriate due diligence. It was handed out to a single company without a tendering process, apparently because that would be the best option for getting the project completed faster. A government held hostage by its own construction project?

      That has never happened before, said no one, ever. This keeps happening, over and over. This city is notorious for accepting lowball tenders from contractors who know they will get the contract and who know when the real bill comes due, a further blank cheque will arrive from the city.

      That actually means it will be paid by you and me.

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      This is a scandal that has been rushed past the public eye in a blur, whisked away by a long weekend news cycle. Ninety million dollars, for now. How much more later? This is a scandal created by the same council that spent hours debating whether Rob Ford open Rob Ford's policard should attend remedial racism school, then quickly rubber stamped an essentially blank cheque for a subway being built by people who should know better.

      This is a group of elected officials who have routinely sought to overrule and neutralize their own integrity commissioners in order to spend money quickly and without oversight. Ari Goldkind is a criminal defence lawyer. Copyright owned or licensed by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.