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The U.S. Shale Boom Takes a Break

Life as the World's Swing Producer

A locked gate in front of the former fracking equipment staging area for Exxon is seen in Parachute, Colorado, December 9, 2014. Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Texas used to be the world’s swing producer of oil. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Texas Railroad Commission enforced production quotas to balance markets and keep prices and profits stable. Texas lost that job to OPEC in the 1970s, though, and never gained it back—until now.

The momentous shift became evident in the weeks after OPEC’s November decision to hold oil production steady in the face of weakening prices. It was time, Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi said, for another producer to idle his rigs. With Saudi Arabia standing firm, prices plummeted. Crude lost half its value between June and December 2014. Within a few weeks, it became apparent that someone would heed Naimi’s command, and that OPEC’s do-nothing strategy would succeed, at least in the short term.

Starting in January, scattered roughnecks toiling on thousands of dusty pads across the Middle

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