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]