While we looked upon this new energy source as a bonanza designed to revitalize U.S. industry and grow enormous numbers of good-paying middle-class jobs, we've instead been disappointed at the number of real beneficiaries of the shale boom. Now that oil prices are low, there is a risk the oil industry's distress will lead to a general distress in the U.S. economy, making shale an economic burden instead of a bonanza.
That is the major thesis of my new book, Shale Boom, Shale Bust -- the Myth of Saudi America, due out in mid-April. I got a chance to talk about some of the ideas in that book with Jill Malandrino of Options Action.
The breakeven costs of shale oil are one of the major reasons that we will never be able to match Saudi Arabia in the global marketplace. The average breakeven price for shale is well over $60 a barrel, while for the Saudis it is under $10 a barrel. This alone forces the shale producers here in the U.S. to be much more sensitive to price in planning their future production and budgets for future development.
The recent drop in the price of a barrel of oil has in fact led to a panicked fallout in the entire energy world, while the Saudis are perfectly capable of continuing to pump oil without regards to price for years.
That sensitivity to price means that the U.S. really cannot rely upon a domestic energy supply to be consistently profitable, or even consistently available. In this way, OPEC has been brilliant in how it has abandoned its role as swing producer adjusting output to market conditions, and given that burden to U.S. producers.
I talk more about some of the ideas in my soon to be available book with Jill in the video above.