As oil prices remain low, the benefit for US consumers is obvious. But for oil companies? In the short run, prices running at about the cost of production mean no profits for the year, but in the longer run there is a terrible problem ahead.
That’s because the start-up of so many fracking operations across the US came at a cost, and that cost was financed primarily through junk bonds – high yield securities that demand a hefty interest payment to keep the operation going.
Zero profit means more than hard times – it means default and, in all likelihood, a shut down of many wells. That might not only spike up the price of oil, it is big enough to trigger a huge financial problem.
The sign out front reads $2.899 for a gallon of gasoline. Prices haven’t been this low for at least four years. What happened? Will the price stay this low?
The short answer is that a lot of things happened, some of them mysterious. And it can’t remain this low forever, but perhaps for a few months. It’s all about the market for oil and perhaps some pernicious politics that, as always, make oil prices a geopolitical game.
A new international war has started in the Middle East as Syria continues to burn. Russia is slowly being strangled by international sanctions that are now cutting off their ability to produce and sell oil. With all of this happening in the world, something remarkable is happening to the price of oil – it’s dropping.
How could this happen? The short answer is that the US continues to move towards energy independence, producing its own oil while consumption is stagnant. It’s a good thing, all in all, but it means that the environmental degradation that was once found only in distant lands, and conveniently ignored by nearly everyone in the US, is now upon us. What can we do?
There’s a decent chance that the free market will actually sort it all out – once it’s been properly regulated to account for the environmental damage, that is.