Oil Field Cage Fight

IMG_0451The Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia and the Bakken in North Dakota were both discovered around 1950. One didn’t produce much, until wildcatters figured out how to frack deep rock. Now, the fate of the two fields could be what determines oil prices for a generation.

Bitcoin for the Rest of Us

Coinbase_ThumbBrian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam certainly look like the kind of guys who could help bitcoin recover from its wild years. They are tall and textbook fit, and as poised as Swiss bankers — Vulcan Swiss bankers. Armstrong, 31, a former software engineer at Airbnb Inc., shaves his head. Ehrsam, 26, a former foreign-exchange trader at Goldman Sachs, keeps his hair short and very much in place. When they discuss bitcoin, they rarely smile. Their seriousness is understandable. Armstrong and Ehrsam are the founders of a startup called Coinbase, whose mission is to convince everyone that bitcoin isn’t an Internet scam or a libertarian plot against the government. Rather, it’s the best thing to happen to money since the Lydians started minting coins sometime in the seventh century B.C. (here is what Marc Andreessen says about bitcoin, and here is a panel discussion on the subject).

Ganja Gear Financier, David Weiner

DUp_In_Smoke_Captureavid Weiner, a former consultant for Deloitte & Touche, became a pot impresario, backing at least two cannabis companies: one that sells soil and chemicals, and another that makes vaporizers. He structured his investments to make money even if the companies never caught fire.

Double-Wide Returns

Trailer_ThumbnailWhen Dan Weissman worked at Goldman Sachs and, later, at a hedge fund, he didn’t have to worry about meth addicts chasing his employees with metal pipes. Or SWAT teams barging into his workplace looking for arsonists. Both things have happened since he left Wall Street and bought five mobile home parks: four in Texas and one in Indiana. Yet he’s never been so relaxed in his life.

Diamonds in the Arctic

IMG_5141-X2South of the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Northwest Territories, 11 tents stand on the tundra. Twin Otter float planes fly in pancake mix, fruit and steaks for 16 men and women living among the caribou and grizzly bears. Most important is diesel fuel for the drill that clatters around the clock, pulling greenish rock from 700 feet (213 meters) under the lakeshore. The rig sits atop a kimberlite, a carrot-shaped plug of hardened magma that geologist Eric Friedland is betting brought up lots of diamonds when it shot through a crack in the Canadian granite 70 million years ago.

Pawn Your Patek Philippe Here

Borro_ThumbnailLast year, Marc Kaye suffered a cash shortage. He had tuition to pay at three colleges — including Harvard and Columbia — and his insurance business wasn’t generating enough commissions to cover the bills. Then Kaye remembered a friend in London who had pawned his Patek Philippe watch with a company called Borro.com to cover a similar gap. Unlike traditional pawnshops, filled with guns and tubas, Borro lends against luxury items. It’s the pawnbroker to the 1 percent.

An Alabama Billionaire in Colombia

Drummond_ThumbGustavo Soler knew he was in trouble. It was 2001, and Soler was union president at a coal mine in Colombia owned by the wealthiest family in Alabama. Soler’s predecessor, Valmore Locarno, and Locarno’s deputy, Victor Orcasita, had been killed seven months earlier, and now Soler was getting threats, says his widow, Nubia, in an interview in Bogota. He told his family to pack up. They would leave the area as soon as he got home from the union office in Valledupar, a city in the country’s coal belt. He never made it.

Whitebox’s Corn Brew Bummer

Redleaf_PDFA mile down an unpaved road on the outskirts of Canton, Illinois, population 14,500, stands a shuttered ethanol plant. Some of the farmers who invested in it blame a poker-loving, libertarian math savant named Andy Redleaf.

Waves Are Electric

Tides_ThumbWhen the tide rushes into New York Harbor, a strange thing happens at the Gristedes supermarket on Roosevelt Island. The freezers, cash registers—even the red neon “Bagels” sign— hum with electricity from the riptide coursing up the East River.

There Will Be Fracking

ND_ThumbJohn Bartelson, who smokes Marlboro Lights through fingers blackened with tractor grease, may look like an average wheat farmer. He isn’t. He’s one of North Dakota’s new oil barons.

Ed Roski’s NFL Obsession

Roski_ThumbEd Roski is a former U.S. Marine who won two Purple Hearts in Vietnam. He has bicycled across Mongolia and Myanmar and plunged to the wreck of the Titanic in a Russian submersible. He’s No. 128 in line to ride into space on a craft being built by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. One feat so far has eluded Roski, 71, chairman of Majestic Realty Co., which owns 80 million square feet of property. Roski has been trying with a Captain Ahab–like effort for 13 years to bring a National Football League team back to Los Angeles.