Welcome Tom Wilber (ShaleGasReview)  (Book Trailer) and Host Steve Horn (deSmogBlog.com) (FDL posts)

Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortune, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale

The title says it all, albeit just ambiguously enough to pull one in as a reader and to keep one turning the pages.

The story of “fracking,” short for hydraulic fracturing – the technical term for horizontal drilling to obtain shale oil and gas from shale rock basins nationwide – is one of fortunes of the few at the expense of the many. These costs are paid financially (think water deliveries after a groundwater contamination episode), in terms of quality of life and health, and also sometimes in terms of royalties (citizens living on houses that live “over the surface” sometimes become “shaleionaires,” as 60 Minutes put it).

Tom Wilber‘s book reads like a novel but is reported in the true spirit of an explanatory, investigative journalist. While detail-obsessed and leaving few stones unturned on the policy side of the shale oil and gas debate, Wilber – in somewhat masterful fashion – takes readers inside the lives of the Marcellus Shale’s stakeholders: citizens, citizen-journalists, oil and gas corporate executives, and activists. There is never a dull moment in the book, as Wilber seamlessly weaves fact-laden reportage into novel-like story-telling. I read the book in three sittings, as it is tough to put down once one opens it up.

Wilber’s years spent reporting on-the-ground in the Twin Tiers – the Southern Tier of NY and the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania – provide great contemporary historical context for the ongoing fracking debate in the Empire State, which now may not be decided until 2014, according to recent reporting by Reuters. Who are some of the key supporters of fracking there? Who are the detractors? That is explained in colorful detail, so colorful in fact, that after reading Wilber’s book, one feels like she’s met these characters in real life.

Frackademia,” the “shale gas bubble,” Penn State University geologist Terry Engelder’s massive Marcellus Shale gas reserves estimate, the climate change impacts extracting/producing shale gas, the T. Boone Pickens natural gas vehicle push, tensions between grassroots activists and funded environmental NGOs – these are merely some of the myriad topics explained in-depth in the book.

While the debate over shale gas extraction has been rife with tension around the world, Wilber captures the somewhat mystical property of the Marcellus debate well. Call it east coast bias, its proximity to big media markets, what have you. When push comes to shove, the debate over the Marcellus has – for better or worse – become literally theatrical in-nature, with one New York anti-fracking group lead by Hollywood stars and music celebrities called “Artists Against Fracking.” This “theatrical nature” is well-captured by Wilber, who rather than take a side as an advocate, tells the story fairly and evenly in Joseph Pulitzer-like manner.

From the point-of-view of a corporate executive, development of the Marcellus Shale is a once-in-a-lifetime race for the literal and metaphorical gold. On the contrary, to citizens living in areas being fracked, development of the Marcellus is a worst nightmare of sorts. Wilber explains – as I’ve written before in my own work – that to the on-the-ground stakeholders, the shale gas boom is akin to a new-aged resource colonialism. One of the book’s protagonists, Victoria Switzer, describes it as an “occupation.”

While the Marcellus serves as a case study, Wilber correctly notes that stakeholders in all shale basin regions share a bond “linked…by local geology and global energy concerns. In all these shale regions, the relationships people have with the land, and with their neighbors, are as complicated and multidimensional as the topographical and geological terrain.”

As an impartial, compelling observation and novel-like story of the events of the past six+ years in New York and Pennsylvania as it pertains to development of the Marcellus Shale, the book was a true joy to read and will serve as a great resource for my work investigative reporting in the near- and long-term future. It is also a go-to source and must-read for anyone looking to learn more about the actors and debates that have lead up to the ongoing New York debate.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]


90 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Tom Wilber, Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortune, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale”

BevW February 16th, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Tom, Welcome to the Lake.

Steve, Welcome to the Book Salon and Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:

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dakine01 February 16th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Tom and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon. Good afternoon Steve.

Tom I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but I always wonder how the corporate folks rationalize the poison? They should understand how foolish they look with some of the claims they make (speaking from reading various news reports – not your writing specifically)

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Tom, thanks for coming today and Bev, it’s an honor to host this. Tom, question for you to start things off here: how in the heck did you develop such amazing narrative writing skills? The book really did read like a novel with a nice explanatory/investigative flair. Any words of advice to the bloggers/upcoming journalists of the world?

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Hi Steve, Thanks for inviting me to the Book Salon

Elliott February 16th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Welcome to the Lake

Thank you both for your tireless efforts reporting on fracking – which is something that shouldn’t be undertaken will nilly considering the flammable waters and possible earthquakes that can result.

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Steve and Bev both ask good questions.

First to Steve: My advice is to learn as much as you can and write daily about it. Writing is like playing the piano. The more you practice, the better you get. Working for a daily newspaper gave me a lot of practice. Second, it also gave me a head start in looking into other people’s lives, and access to people of influence. Third, I suggest reading as much you can for style and substance.

Answer to Bev’s question in a sec.

maadcet February 16th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

why the activist and environmentalist play the “public’s right to know” card and force the fracking companies to disclose the chemicals or provide the material safety data sheets (MSDS) to the employees and public. Granted that Mr. Cheney helped pass the law of non disclosure under trade secrets banner. But MSDS does not list any quantity, however, only the contents. I realize that it is not that simple as it sounds. But disclosure is a strong word or easy to remember sound bite.

Teddy Partridge February 16th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Hello, and thank you for this book and for joining us today. Thanks also to our host.

My question is: don’t any of the legislators/regulators who allow this despoilage of the land actually *live* there? Are these predations on poor people, made shaleillionaires, perceived in the State legislatures as all-good? Do they believe the Halliburton exec who drinks the fracking liquid? (As if.)

I don’t get these electeds and public servants’ approaches: don’t they see that they share this planet with us? Where do they expect their children and further offspring to live, really?

Again, many thanks.

greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

The book, with all the subject’s inherent drama and your superb story telling skills, has been kind of bittersweet to read. I’d be way engrossed in some part of the excitement of it and then remember that it’s a true story and that people’s air, soil, water and lives are being ruined as fracking has gone ahead.

Are there people you’ve met in your reporting of this story to whom you’re particularly drawn? Why?

PeasantParty February 16th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Welcome, Tom.

Does our government have a plan that you know of to replace the water supply? Thank you for being here.

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

To Bev’s question

I believe that there are good and bad actors in the corporate world, like anywhere else. We all use cheap abundant energy, so we have responsibility to know where it comes from. My biggest issues with the drilling business is one of transparency. There are people out there who want to make innovations for profit and for the benefit of humankind. Often, those things go together. But we need a good system of oversight and regulation. The drilling company is exempt from many hazardous waste handling laws, and I think that’s where the problem begins.

BevW February 16th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

As a technical note,
there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

(Note: If you’ve had to refresh your browser, Reply may not work correctly unless you wait for the page to complete loading)

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to Teddy Partridge @ 8

Teddy, that’s a great question. It’s a product of short-term, daily profit motive thinking. The duty of the executives is to produce high quarterly profits for his/her shareholders and that type of thinking is the furthest they go in their analysis. Any of the outside consequences simply aren’t part of the equation.

As the documentary film “The Corporation” points out and makes fairly clear, a corporation and its upper-level executives share many of the same characteristics of a sociopath, if you want to look at it through that lens.

dakine01 February 16th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 11

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier for folks to follow the conversation.

Note: some browsers do not like to let the Reply function properly if it is pressed after a page refresh but before the page completes loading

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:14 pm
In response to maadcet @ 7

Given the political climate and the anti-regulatory “pro-business” mood in Washington, enforcing laws are harder than ever. The EPA has been on it’s heals by right wingers who have painted it as “overzealous” and “anti-business” The drilling industry is a throwback to a time when businesses operated pretty much how they wanted in the name of freedom without a lot of “meddling.” Federal and state staffing cuts are also a problem when it comes to oversight

maadcet February 16th, 2013 at 2:14 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 11

We should not confuse with hazardous waste handling required/or exempt by drilling companies. We should focus what they are bringing into the the facility or locality.

maadcet February 16th, 2013 at 2:16 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 15

We should not ask for new regulations. Just follow the old one. RCRA, Cradle to grave or SARAH under clean air act (I forgot the exact rule)—Public right to know. This is the law on books

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:16 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 10

There is little long-term planning that comes into play here. Issues about the nation’s water supply, (regarding drilling, agricultural etc) I believe, will continue to become a larger factor of the political equation in years to come. At some point, it will have to be but it may take a painful draught.

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 9

From my experience doing some reporting on this – to chime in briefly – I would recommend looking up the story of Ron Gullah, who lives in SW PA. He’s been booted out of his house there by Range Resources (they now live in his house!) and now is a leading “fracktivist.” He is a family man, with two young kids and a young wife and he’s an inspirational guy to watch speak. He will be a central character in a friend of mine’s forthcoming book, “Frack Attack and the Fight Back.” Here is one good YouTube video of him talking below:


Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:19 pm
In response to maadcet @ 16

That’s the problem. hazardous waste laws require strict handling and tracking through extensive paperwork. Without them, the industry can get rid of waste through conventional means, without the same rigors of identification etc,.

PeasantParty February 16th, 2013 at 2:20 pm


We all know about the big wigs in Canada and Koch Bros. Industries. Are there other major players in this Fracking war that we should know about?

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:21 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 19

Steve, Thanks for that tip. There are so many compelling stories coming out of this that will be unfolding, with ramifications, for decades it not a lifetime.

greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 2:22 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 13

I think Teddy was asking about legislators and regulators rather than corporate executives.

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Tom, to jump to the more immediate, what do you make of the recent Cuomo “kicking it down the can” decision? You’ve been reporting there for years now on this issue, so I also wanted to ask you what you make of the recent Larry Schwartz investigation too and his and his colleagues’ stock investments in the industry. Do you see that playing a role in Cuomo’s final decision? What kind of timeline do you think we’re working with here?

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:23 pm
In response to maadcet @ 17

That is correct. And that is the one that the industry is exempt from

Link here

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 2:28 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 21

Fracking and “war.” Check out Range Resources, a power player in the industry. They have admitted to using psychological warfare tactics in PA communities and also are implicated in a fairly big ongoing EPA scandal. See the below:



Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:28 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 21

The Koch brothers get a lot of news, along with publically traded players like Exxon Mobile and Royal Ducth Shell. The Koch Industries present certain transparency problems because it is a private co. But I think the small players – the “mom and pop” drillers, are also critical to watch. Some of them are very good. But conventional wisdom has it that they lack some of the capital and technical resources to properly manage all the aspect of a big time shale gas play. Also, big players higher out contractors, and that is also where problems of accountability can arise.

maadcet February 16th, 2013 at 2:29 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 20

Sorry to be nuisance, I was not taking about hazardous material or non hazardours. I was referring to what these fracking companies bring into the facility. For example, Nitrogen and Oxygen are not listed materials, however, when these two combine they become NOX or a pollutant. By combining two or three non hazardous material one could end up with Hazardous stuff. So the emphasis should be disclosure what these guys are bring into a locals. Keep it simple

PeasantParty February 16th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 26

Thank you for that info. Seems that when one big shaker moves, all the smallers ones fall in line right behind/with them.

greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Tom, I so appreciate that you’ve written this book. I only knew the vaguest outlines of the issues before and now feel way more up to speed.

In fact, today my food server in Dripping Springs, a little town outside Austin, Texas asked about the copy of Under the Surface I was carrying. When I said it was about fracking she asked what that was. Just from having read most of the book, I’d already started thinking all this was common knowledge and was shocked to think someone from Texas hadn’t heard of fracking. I was tempted to do a little survey of the rest of the folks in the restaurant, but managed to contain myself.

Teddy Partridge February 16th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 13

Thank you for addressing my question.

Should this exploration and exploitation be put into the hands of a Public Utility, then? Accountable for the entire sweep of impacts, without a profit motive or quarterly pressures?

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 2:32 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 27

In my opinion, at this point the Koch Industries thing is more of a partisan issue and sometimes verges on the level of conspiracy theory. Corporations all share this in common: the desire – nay, the necessity, to earn as high of quarterly profits as possible for their shareholders. It’s not really that any are THAT MUCH worse than others, they’re playing by the rules of the game, that’s all.

PeasantParty February 16th, 2013 at 2:34 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 27

Thank you.

Also, big players higher out contractors, and that is also where problems of accountability can arise.

I am seeing the same issues in our National Security Apparatus. It’s not just our government spying on us, but anybody that can/will regardless of laws and rights.

It is really hard for me to believe that counties and cities fall for what is being done at the state level regarding pipelines and fracking.

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 24

I thinks Cuomo is buying more time. I’ve written about that in some detail on my blog


Also spoke on it as a recent radio interview


There are real issues about this so called health review. It’s fair enough to day the administration needs more time with this. But it’s a problem when they are not letting the public in on the process.

I don’t see the thing with Larry Schwartz becoming a huge issue, but I could be wrong. It’s right to shine the light on conflict of interest issues, but remember too, government officials tend to invest in things they believe in and have a certain right to do so. Not all of the companies he invested in were tied into New York. But who knows. It will be interesting to follow.

BevW February 16th, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Tom, is fracking in NY/PA isolated to certain regions of the state or is it all over the state?

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Well, in my opinion, yes. Energy is something we all use, so why isn’t it a publicly owned thing? As of now, we subsidize it, they earn profits, and the earning of profits serves as a motive to cut corners, etc. Being a public utility would also mean that maybe so much of it wouldn’t be burned off simply for profit and instead, would be for the public good. Just look to North Dakota, where 30-percent of gas, enough to heat millions of homes, is flared off as waste. This is Exhibit A of the corporate profit motive: cheaper to burn a public good off as a “waste,” so they do it at a rate of 30-percent of the gas they produce.


Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:37 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 30

Glad to know you are getting a lot out of the book. I’m always interested to hear what the “mainstream” thinks about fracking. I have been following so closely that I am convinced that it is an issue for everybody. But often I am surprised at the percentage of people that are out of the loop. I think awareness will continue to grow due to the impact this is having on the country.

greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 2:38 pm

It seems like even though natural gas is touted as a clean alternative to nuclear, some of the very same problems exist in both industries: no cogent plan for dealing with the waste, very high use of water that then becomes contaminated and is no longer usable.

Given the immense drought we’re in and are predicted to be in for the foreseeable future, what is being done to address our water needs vs our energy needs?

dakine01 February 16th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 38

I think that is endemic to the process of extracting finite resources. Sludge ponds and such (including poisoning the ground water) are a long time problem in coal country.

greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Tom, after all these years of covering this issue, what changes have you seen in how gas is being pursued and problems addressed (or not)?

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:43 pm
In response to BevW @ 35

Good question. It is mostly in the drilling “fairway” which extends from the southwest to the northeast.

See map

There are certain areas within this that have boomed more than others. The rate of drilling has slowed due to the clut in the market. There are about 6,000 shale wells drilling, less than one tenth of the number expected that would be drilled for the Marcellus alone once the play matures. There are also other gas and oil baring formations that would likely be more attractive once the infrastructure for the Marcellus is developed

PeasantParty February 16th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 39

Definitely! When they had flooding rains, it was not contained to just those coal areas either.

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 41

That leads to a great follow-up and something you highlighted in your book. What do you make of the “shale gas bubble” analysis and of Engelder’s initial estimates of how much gas there is under the ground in the Marcellus? Do you think it was purposeful commodity speculation on behalf of the industry to get initial Wall Street investments? Do you foresee, as Deborah Rogers predicted, that this could be the next dot-com/housing bubble?

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 40

I see that the awareness has increased in New York to sustain a prolonged moratorium. I have seen the EPA enacting some water downed air regs and implementing a study on the impact of groundwater. And I have seen local municipalities attempt to ban fracking, with some success thorugh Home Rule

But I have not seen significant regulatory reform

Here is the EPA’s explanation of the Haliburton Loophole, which continues to excuse the industry of federal regs to which others must abide bide


greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 44

What is the possibility of unloopholing the loophole? Is there anyone working on that end of the issue?

Teddy Partridge February 16th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I’m confused, as someone who might be said to follow this a little.

What’s happening in New York State? I thought some activists in Iowa ran an ad urging Governor Cuomo not to approve fracking in NYS, making it part of the national 2016 agenda during a visit he made to Iowa. What’s on his desk to approve?

Is is *continued* fracking? Or *expanded* fracking? Because there certainly is already fracking in NYS.

Thank you for clearing this up for me.

bgrothus February 16th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 44

Will home rule be sufficient to keep fracking at bay considering that regulatory reform is unlikely? Or is regulatory reform possible?

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 2:57 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 43

I don’t think it was a simple attempt to deceive, as I believe Engelder was optimistic but sincere. We have begun to see the market crash with the glut, but there are other things that will sustain it for a while. Obama appears to promote policy that is shale gas friendly; we have more utility plants changing from coal to gas as prices drop, we have plans to export gas, and we have cracker plants in Pa and elsewhere coming on line to use excessive gas reserves as feedstock for manufacturing. That will tend to drive the price up, sooner or later. Implicit in your question is a bigger issue: How long will the supply last? Optimistically, we’re talking a generation or two. And then what? Will it be worth it? Perhaps for the myopic financial markets (or not). But at some point we need to start looking further down the road, and I don’t believe gas is the bridge the industry pretends it is.

elisemattu February 16th, 2013 at 3:00 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 15

Such a good thing to show up here at FDL. A lot of work behind this presentation, and to both Tom and Steve, much appreciation.

However here’s one galling remark – I am not sure why anyone would use the term “RW” when describing the politics surrounding the environment. After all, the EPA is the country’s main environmental agency and it is under the purview of a Democratic President. (Unless you’ re willing to admit that the damn Democrats have become as RW as the Republicans.) Biggest difference I can see – The Dems pretend to be all for the environment, while the Republicans at least do as they say they will do, without the lies.

And of course, Governor Cuomo was/is a Democrat as well – yet he seemed perfectly okay with giving the fracking process full approval until the matter caught some headlines.

For me, Obama’s credibility about the environment tanked the moment his EPA head let Corexit get approved after one full week off research and testing. And the “real” researcher who felt it might be dangerous did his own test and then found that the fish who survived one week of Corexit died at the two week mark! So much for Pres Obama caring about the marine life of the Gulf! If the President and his EPA officials didn’t care about killing off the Gulf, why would they care about doing in the aquifers located in PA and NY ? (FACT: Millions of gallons of Corexit have been sprayed over the Gulf of Mexico.
FACT: Corexit is POISON! ‘2-Butoxyethanol’ is highly toxic and the main component (30-60%) of Corexit 9527A. See MSDS for 2-Butoxyethanol section 11- ‘Chronic Effects on Humans’ may damage blood, kidneys, liver and CNS… adverse fertility, birth defects cancer; section 14 DOT Class 6.1- Poisonous materials.
FACT: The MSDS for each Corexit says, “Do not contaminate surface water.” See under “ENVIRONMENTAL PRECAUTION”.
COREXIT 9527A: http://www.pdfdownload.org/pdf2html/pdf2html.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Flmrk.org%2Fmaster_ec9527a_msds.539295.pdf&images=yes
2-BUTOXYETHANOL: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:asnqPGZqzX0J:www.sciencelab.com/xMSDS-2_Butoxyethanol-9923187+msds+2-butoxyethanol&hl=en&gl=us )

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

There is no high volume fracking – the kind needed for shale gas development. It has been on hold since 2008 due to community concerns based on what New Yorkers saw happening in Pa. The state is still working on an extended review of health and environmental issues and the governor is under political pressure from a well organized national anti-fracking movement to ban it permanently. Quite a story.


Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Have you done much homework on the alternatives? I know it is something advocates discuss when protesting, but the question is: do any of them talk about what alternatives they mean when they say “alternative energy”? Are they more clear than that from your experiences interviewing activists? I fear that many of them may be advocating for something such as biomass without knowing it. Some have referred to this as promoting a “biomassacre.” The facts are sobering.



bgrothus February 16th, 2013 at 3:02 pm

The issue of water is so critical, especially in the west where the drought is severe. We know that there is no more or less water on the planet now than there ever was. Unless we develop some means of moving major runoff from winter storms and river flooding from one area of the country to another, we are going to see incredibly diminished water sources.

We are simply not able to manage the water delivery that happens with weather events, and we are seeing the chronic problems that some places have too much while others are withering.

greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 3:02 pm

One of the more dismaying episodes in the book for me is the description of the drilling company Cabot’s charm offensive in the form of a community picnic/fair on the school grounds in Montrose, PA.

The activists against drilling had their polluted water taken away from them by law enforcement. As it turned out later, this was done under a the rubric of them being terrorist threats via PA Homeland Security.

How dangerous do you consider this branding of activists as eco-terrorists to be?

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to elisemattu @ 49

I think this also says a lot about the Obama EPA and should get rid of illusions about how much it cares about the eco-system as opposed to the GOP, too:


Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 52

Glad you raised the water crisis issue. It is something we all should be thinking about a whole lot more as without water…there is no life. It’s that simple.


bgrothus February 16th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 53

Good question, I’m afraid we will find out too late what is in store for those of us who are standing up against this. I saw that the courts ruled against Idle No More in Canada today, leaving a few elderly and sick women (mostly) willing to risk arrest.

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:06 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 47

Home Rule is shaping up to be the Little Engine that Could. While is remains iffy if the federal government will have the gumption to enact real reform, small towns are stepping up and banning fracking based on local land use plans. They have been challenged in both New York and Pa. by industry that claims the state, not towns, has the statutory authority to regulate gas. So far the lower courts have sided with the towns. While if Home Rule holds up in the higher courts, it won’t create a uniform ban of shale gas, but it will make things hard for industry by breaking up the large contiguous tracts it needs for wells and build out. In short, it could (combined with other factors) discourage development in New York. It’s something to keep an eye on.

elisemattu February 16th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 44

Glad to see you mentioning this “loophole.” Again, both parties are allowing these environment-destroying legal matters to remain in effect. I voted a Dem ticket in Nov 2006, precisely as it was my hope that the 2005 Energy Act would be tossed out, or at elast, re-written under a Dem Majority Congress.

Instead, what was the new Dem majority Congressional critters’ first matter of business in Spring of 2007? Why to offer up huge Postal Rate increases for small businesses while offering discounts for Time Life and Amazon. No consideration for the 2005 Cheney Energy Act. Too much trouble, I guess. Better to respond to the people who pull their strings and give them the big bucks and revolving door jobs, than to actually work on behalf of the drinking water our kids and grand kids will need in the future.

bgrothus February 16th, 2013 at 3:08 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 57

Good to know. Thanks.

elisemattu February 16th, 2013 at 3:11 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 53

Don’t forget, within weeks of the Nine Eleven event, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft were stating that both religious activists and environmental activists should be labeled as terrorists. And although Obama is smart enough NOT to say something like that, Homeland Security has expanded greatly under his Administration.

We have massive amounts of warrantless wire tapping going on. We have the drones’ program expanded, so that already some 82 communities have them (Including Native American owned casino/resort areas, including college campuses, and probably in the near future, the Big Energy companies will have them, to help them patrol all the real estate that they have under their purview.)

Mod Note: While all interesting topics, please keep the focus on Fracking and the book.

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 3:12 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 53

To chime in, just to add some context, this is something we should all worry about, but not TOO much. It has existed for decades in the environmental movement, civil rights movement, antiwar movement, etc. The goal of activities like these are to paralyze potential activists from practicing their free speech rights: the age-old chilling effect. I think if the “powers that be” are doing this, it means the activism was actually having an impact.

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:13 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 51

The alternative question is a good one and I struggle with it. We all like the luxuries extraction industries afford us as long as we don’t have to look to closely from where then come. It’s one thing to say we don’t want gas extraction, but we have to consider the demand for cheap abundant energy on a global scale, and take a look at what coal is doing to the world. Alternatives are far from being able to significantly contribute to the base-load needed for people worldwide to have the standard of living we sometime take for granted in the U.S. But my thinking is, we need to start seriously moving in that direction. Since fracking is happening in our own back yards, we are forced to take a good look at the issues.

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 3:14 pm

To date, there’s been no fracking in NYS. The 4.5 year moratorium is in place and Reuters believes it will be at least until 2014.


Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 57

Tom, you bring up home rule in your book and I think it’s an increasingly interesting/compelling plot to follow.

What do you make of the effort in PA to repeal it? Do you see this being a nationwide thing in the coming months/years?


greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 3:17 pm

One hopeful note I read in your book was about Tony Ingraffea giving a series of public lectures showing how shale gas operations are a net social and environmental loss.

Can you expand on what is was he was saying? Was he well received? Is he still doing that?

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:19 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 54

Jackson fought the good fight, but she lost some critical battles to the industy. It’s qustionable where the agency will go from here. Obama remains trained on the middle class and the economy with little signs of long-term environmental issues. More here

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:22 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 64

I think they are essential

Tp be clear, so far the courts have sided with the municipalities. The Pa. court overturned Act. 13, which was an attempt by the Pa. legislature to limit local control of the industry. The industry has appealed, and high court deision still pending.

More here


Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Tom, you write in-depth about the divide between professional NGO activists and on-the-ground affected “activists by necessity.” What do you make of that? Do the people on the ground appreciate the outside support or is it sometimes a nuisance? From my following of this issue it seems like the “home rule” charters are always grassroots initiatives with the assistance of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a group that isn’t all that well-liked within the mainstream environmental movement. In your reporting have you observed a divide between the motives of the grassroots and the funded environmental movement, particularly to the point where the two spheres have clashed? I thought this was a great piece of insight portrayed in your book, depicting the complexities of what many erroneously refer to as one broad-brushed “environmental movement,” as if it’s one thing. As you show, it’s certainly not that simple.

gordonot February 16th, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Is it true, as I think Harry Shearer reported, that the gunk that comes up often includes a significant amount of radioactive substance?

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:27 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 45

The EPA is undertaking a critical study to look at the impact fracking has on water. The results are due out next year. If there is any hope in closing this loophole, it starts and ends with the results of this study.


Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:30 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 33

It is really hard for me to believe that counties and cities fall for what is being done at the state level regarding pipelines and fracking.

That brings us back to Home Rule. Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Binghamton, Syracuse are a few of the bigger cities that are claiming rights to regulate. But the test cases are with smaller towns, namely Dryden and Middlefield, NY

Peterr February 16th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

One of the more humorous items in the book is how T Boone Pickens ran into a buzz saw when his move to increase the use of natural gas (as opposed to oil) by getting a bunch of natural gas-related tax breaks enacted was stymied by the Koch Brothers and their oil pals.

Gotta love it when oligarchs go after each other.

More seriously, I’ve been struck by the advertising pushes aimed at ordinary folks regarding oil, “clean coal,” and natural gas, trying to paint all of these industries as good upstanding corporate citizens who are just trying to do all kinds of nice things for ordinary folks. The “we produce jobs” is a big theme, especially during the Lesser Depression that we are still dealing with.

My question: are you seeing any substantive impact of these ads on the general energy consciousness of ordinary folks?

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to gordonot @ 69

There is naturally occurring radio active material in fracking waste water, or flowback. I’ve written a bit about this here:


Peterr February 16th, 2013 at 3:35 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 71

With NYC getting so much of its water from upstate, how do New York City politics play into this debate? You mentioned in passing a study by NYC opposed to fracking — could you say more about this?

gordonot February 16th, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Thanks. And thanks for the link to the epa study, too.

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 3:39 pm
In response to Peterr @ 72

Well, people do show up for astroturf rallies, so I’d say it has a definite impact.


The Pickens story is actually totally fascinating and I’m glad Tom covered this in his book. I also wrote about it back in 2011 when it was introduced. I was only 22 years old at the time, so the writing and reporting could be better, but it’s still worth looking at it to get names of people/entities.


gordonot February 16th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Here in the Coachella Valley were fixin’ to suffer the slings and pm2.5s of a new gas fired peaker plant. Occupy Coachella Valley is organizing to stop it, but the reps have been bought off and the local papers are gaga about the 14 jobs it will create.

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:45 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 9

Are there people you’ve met in your reporting of this story to whom you’re particularly drawn? Why?

Ken Ely was very interesting. He represented a view that was not based on ideology, but on practical matters. He was optimistic and open, but became motivated, for many reasons. I felt for all of the homeowners who were naively pulled into the problems that Dimock experienced – Norma F. Victoria S.. It could happen to anybody. And I was especially drawn at how they transcended class structure and values to join together. I also have a lot of respect for Don Lockhart, who is a man of principal and hard work. I think I liked the Carters most of all, though. Those people are straight shooters and handled themselves with class and dignity throughout, despite going through some very tough personal losses that I didn’t report in the book.

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

A note to everybody

I’ll be here following up with questions for a few more minutes. If I didn’t get to you, or you want to talk more, here are ways to reach me, comment and carry on the discussion through my social media links

Twitter: @wilberwrites

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/frackingandfortunes

Blog: Shale Gas Review tomwilber.blogspot.com

greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Do you know about the organization stopthefrackattack.org? I got a flier from them advertising a national summit in Dallas, March 2-3. I see looking at the schedule that Tony Ingraffea, whom I asked about in a comment @64, will be speaking.

greenwarrior February 16th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Tom and Steve – thank you so much for all the good info and all the links to further resources. I’m so glad you could come by today.

How is the book being received?

markhand13 February 16th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Hi Tom,

I’ll be covering the climate rally in D.C. tomorrow for SNL Energy. Today, I’ve been seeing lots of messages about activists filling buses to come to D.C. for the rally. I assume these buses run on some kind of fossil fuel. Along these lines, how do you react to the arguments and claims of hypocrisy by the natural gas industry and its supporters who point out that some of the major anti-fracking activists heat their homes or cook with natural gas?

Keep up the great work!


Teddy Partridge February 16th, 2013 at 3:52 pm
In response to Tom Wilber @ 50

Thank you for clarifying that.

I shudder now whenever I hear any politician (R or D) speak about ‘energy independence’ because it always means depradation of the natural resource we were blessed with: this land, its flora and fauna. Saying, as many do, that it’s Ours To Use is a strange kind of stewardship, to me: using it UP, then discarding its tailings and waste, leaving a hellscape for our descendants.

Hanford tanks are leaking 50 years after they were built, to hold toxins with half lives of millenia. I just want one politician, ONE, to say “the American way of life will kill our planet, especially if exported.”

Let’s show the planet there is actually a new, different, lighter, easier-on-the-Earth American way of life. We must lead by example. And we aren’t, not now.

Steve Horn February 16th, 2013 at 3:53 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 80

Yes, that is an organization consisting of green NGOs, but lead in particular by EarthWorks. Sharon Wilson, author of the blog TexasSharon.com and also an Earthworks employee, is one of the lead organizers.

BevW February 16th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Tom, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and the issues with Fracking.

Steve, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Tom’s website and book (Shale Gas Review). Tom’s speaking schedule is here too.

Steve’s website (deSmogBlog) and read him here at FDL.

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: David Hirsch, Dan Van Haften / Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason; Hosted by William Gormley [an excellent book about Abraham Lincoln's speeches, what made them memorable - bev]

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

Teddy Partridge February 16th, 2013 at 3:54 pm
In response to markhand13 @ 82

Doesn’t this quote-hypocrisy-unquote charge stem from the “Al Gore is fat and has a big house” school of debate?

Teddy Partridge February 16th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Thanks to one and all for a delightful, and frightening, Book Salon.

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:56 pm
In response to Peterr @ 74

With NYC getting so much of its water from upstate, how do New York City politics play into this debate? You mentioned in passing a study by NYC opposed to fracking — could you say more about this?

VERY IMPORTANT: NYC did an extensive study that raised issues about fracking, and that study, along with NYC’s political force, had a huge impact on the state’s policy review. The state has since proposed that no drilling will be allowed in the NYC watershed in the Catskills, or other major water sheds in Syracuse. That opened a HUGE can of worms, because the activist said why would you allow it anywhere if it is unsafe in these regions? How can you protect some water systems but not others? Good questions.

Tom Wilber February 16th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thanks Steve and everybody else. Hope our paths cross again. Keep up the great discussion

markhand13 February 16th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

It’s an honest question and one that I wrestle with everyday. The only answer that I’ve come up with is that everyone really needs to simplify their lives and we need downscale and downsize on a massive basis.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post