The Atlantic

How Frackers Beat OPEC

The surprising ingenuity of the U.S. shale-oil industry—and its global consequences
Source: Edmon de Haro

In November 2014, opec ministers gathered in Vienna for a tense meeting. Oil prices had fallen to their lowest point in four years. For decades, the cartel had responded to situations like this by restricting production and sending prices higher.

But things were changing. During the mid- and late aughts, more companies in the United States had begun using an alternative to traditional land-based drilling and deepwater offshore drilling. The method—fracking—involved using a mixture of water, chemicals, and proppant (sand or sand-like substances) to crack underground shale rock and release oil from it.

In 2014, U.S. shale oil represented about 5 percent of the oil being produced worldwide. But the process was expensive, which suggested to many that shale producers could not stay in business if oil prices dipped too far.

The main question at hand for the opec ministers was whether their countries should lower oil production and thereby raise prices. The oil minister

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