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Stranded Assets

American Oil Is Cheap Enough for Climate Activists to Buy It

Whether or not they should is an open question.

Flare stacks beside two oilfield pumpjacks, belonging to Whiting Oil & Gas Corp., producing crude on wells in the Bakken Formation (Williston Basin) near Ray, ND on Sat., Sept. 8, 2018. (Larry MacDougal via AP)
Flare stacks beside two oilfield pumpjacks, belonging to Whiting Oil & Gas Corp., producing crude on wells in the Bakken Formation (Williston Basin) near Ray, ND on Sat., Sept. 8, 2018. (Larry MacDougal via AP)Photographer: Larry MacDougal/AP

The title of this column—“stranded assets”—describes the financial implications of a climate truism: maintaining an environment that’s somewhat hospitable to humans means that a lot of identified fossil-fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground, thus rendering them worthless.

We’re seeing a kind of partial foreshadowing of this scenario right now. Demand for oil has crashed, and prices are so low that some U.S. shale oil producers are filing for bankruptcy. But the oil and gas they planned to extract doesn’t simply disappear. Reuters reports that banks are getting ready to take on the reserves those producers once put up as collateral, creating holding companies and attempting to wait out the price war.