Fracking Book Highlights Former Aspen Businessman

Nov 22, 2013

At least one former resident of the Roaring Fork Valley has played a part in the dramatic fracking boom in the last decade. He’s one of several characters examined in a book exploring how fracking started… and there’s an odd connection to restaurants and even the OJ Simpson trial.


Reporter: Much of the heated fracking debate in Colorado has to do with the possible effects on people and the environment. Being a Wall Street Journal reporter, Gregory Zuckerman focuses on the business side… like how fracking started. And then how it got really, really big Aspen Public Radio recently spoke with Zuckerman. He explained… through a bad phone connection… just how defining drilling has become for the US.

The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, by Gregory Zuckerman.
Credit Portfolio Hardcover

Gregory Zuckerman: “In this country we’re good at rapping, we’re good at drones, we’re good at making apps, and we’re really good at fracking. And the rest of the world hasn’t caught up.”

Reporter: Zuckerman… who says he aims to be neutral on the controversial topic... describes the early days of fracking this way.

Zuckerman: “You have some desperate wildcatters, some of whom were in trouble. Running out of natural gas and no shot at oil. And all their bigger rivals like Chevron and Exxon had gone off shore to different places, Africa, Asia.”

Reporter: Zuckerman follows those left behind… and how they figured out how to use fracking to get more oil and gas out certain kinds of rock. In the midst of all of this is a former Aspen resident. Cherif Souki, who ended up in Aspen decades ago.

Zuckerman: “He’s a fascinating guy. He’s an immigrant from Lebanon, an investment banker and tried different industries. And he made some money and decides to go skiing for a few years in Colorado, and took off and he then  went into restaurants and bars and knew about fajitas than fracking.”

Reporter: Souki started the long time Aspen eatery Mezzaluna… and it was so successful, he and his brother expanded to Los Angeles and beyond. In a bizarre twist, that restaurant got caught up in the OJ Simpson trial in 1994.

In the end, the restaurant business didn’t work out for Souki… and he almost went broke. Again, Gregory Zuckerman.

Zuckerman: “He needed to find something new to do, and he made a huge bet that we were running out of natural gas in this country, and he and his company they borrowed millions of dollars to build import terminals. Because all the experts said we’re running out of natural gas.”

Reporter: Which, of course, turned out to be very, very wrong.

Zuckerman: “Then lo and behold in 2008 or so, we suddenly began get to get all kinds of natural gas from around the country. So Cherif Souki and company were in trouble, they were done, and he figured out how to turn things around by making the bet on exporting.”

Reporter: Zuckerman says Souki is worth about three hundred and fifty million dollars now… and his company is expected to be the first to export natural gas from the lower four-eight. Some scientists have raised questions about just how much of it will be around for the US to export. At the recent Geological Society of America meeting in Denver, more than one speaker predicted that supplies will run out faster than projected. Zuckerman says research tells him the natural gas boom could last a while.

Wall Street Journal reporter and author Gregory Zuckerman.
Credit gregoryzuckerman.com

Zuckerman: “Engineers and geologists in this industry are going to continue finding new layers full of oil and gas, they’re perfecting their methods, so this resurgence is gonna continue much longer than the skeptics think. Will it go on for a hundred years as President Obama says in terms of natural gas? Probably not, but we got a few generations worth.”

Reporter: In an industry known for boom and busts, only time will tell how long fracking produces vast amounts of natural gas.