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Once Burned, Twice Shy? Utica Shale Touted to Investors As Shale Drillers Continue Posting Losses

For the past several weeks, the drilling industry — hammered by bad financial results — has begun promoting its next big thing: the Utica shale, generating the sort of headlines you might have seen five years ago, when the shale drilling rush was gaining speed. “Utica Shale Holds 20 Times More Gas Than Previous Estimates”, read one headline. “Utica Bigger Than Marcellus”, proclaimed another.

The reason for the excitement was a study, published by West Virginia University, that concluded the Utica contains more shale gas than many estimates for the Marcellus shale, a staggering 782 trillion cubic feet.

“This is a landmark study that demonstrates the vast potential of the Utica as a resource to complement – and go beyond – what the Marcellus has already proven to be,” Brian Anderson, director of West Virginia University’s Energy Institute, told the Associated Press.

But those considering investments based on the Utica’s potential may want to pause and consider the shale industry’s long history of circulating impressive predictions, later quietly downgraded, while spending far more than they earn.

The industry has not been generating enough money to cover its capital spending and dividends,” Fidelity Investments energy fund manager John Dowd told Barrons.

Indeed, while it is clear that the shale drilling rush has produced large amounts of oil and gas, (alongside wastewater and other environmental impacts), the financial prosperity promised by its backers has not seemed to materialize.

Burning Through Cash

Companies like Chesapeake Energy, the nation’s second largest producer of natural gas and one of the most aggressive advocates of the shale rush nationwide, have been hammered hard by low oil prices and high costs in 2015.

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