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Why the Great Shale Rush in the Eagle Ford may be over sooner than you think

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National media profiles paint Chesapeake's McClendon as a risk-addicted wildcatter, most recently in a jarring piece in this month's Rolling Stone, wherein writer Jeff Goodell contends the industry titan has positioned Chesapeake to profit off hyping the illusion of an unending, cheap domestic supply of natural gas.

In a response to the profile, which briefly quoted Berman, Chesapeake fired off a lengthy, charged rebuttal, saying in part: "The reality of at least 100 years' worth of shale gas abundance has been supported by virtually every credible third-party expert ... and the largest energy companies in the world, among them being ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Total, Statoil, CNOOC, Sinopec, Reliance, Repsol, BG, ENI and many others, not to mention every major independent in the U.S., Including Oxy, Anadarko, Apache, EOG, Devon, EnCana, Talisman and dozens more. The collective market cap of these energy leaders approaches $2 trillion — ask yourself: do I believe Rolling Stone and Arthur Berman or the world's biggest and most successful energy companies?"

In the Barnett, Rogers says, industry sold residents the promise that gas drilling would be an economic powerhouse for at least three decades. Production is now on the decline in the Barnett, though industry says an increase in gas prices would spark more drilling and that many wells could be re-fracked in an effort to boost flagging production. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. That's where I feel like were are with unconventional oil and gas," Rogers said.

Rogers now serves on the advisory committee for the fracking-critical group the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, traveling the country delivering presentations on what she considers the shaky economics of shale gas, fraught with boom-and-bust volatility. And she contends amped-up promises keep communities from having an honest conversation on the pros and cons of fracking. "Certainly I would be the last person to say there are no economic benefits. … The question is how long-lived is it going to be and is it truly going to be as great as they promise," she said. "You have to decide as a community how much is it worth to you, the monetary gain on the front end, and is it enough to offset the environmental degradation and potential health effects on the backside."

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Most shale-heavy companies have claimed for years that well production drops sharply for the first several months, but then quickly levels off. "The assumption was that it would go on and on and on, providing significant returns for decades," Berman said. His analysis largely challenges that assumption, showing the wells consistently continue on a steady decline. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to marginalize the fact that it has an economic impact, but if you're looking for a limited resource to sustain the prosperity and growth of an area for any length of time longer than maybe a decade, just go back and study the gold rushes of the 19th and 20th centuries," he said. "Look at any boom, look at the real estate boom. Booms are followed by busts. I'm not trying to be apocalyptic here, I just think that the people of South Texas need to do some critical thinking."

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