The Relationship We Have with the Land

under the surface
The destinies of communities over similar shale gas reserves — in Alabama, Louisiana, Wyoming, Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, and other places — are linked to the Marcellus region by local geology and global energy concerns. In all these shale gas regions, the relationships people have with the land, and with their neighbors, are as complicated and multidimensional as the topographical and geological terrain. Here, too, there are cracks. They are created by forces that sometimes pull in opposite directions, at other times collide with great force, and often are buried from view.” — Tom Wilber, Under the Surface

The story is complex, and in no way easy. What you have, in pockets across the country, is a natural gas reserve trapped in rock, that if released, might meet our domestic demands for decades. Along comes an extraction technology, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), that involves injecting drill holes with a mix of water, sand, and chemicals under pressure great enough to split rock and free the gas within (described in a short film clip below).

That frames what has become a fierce debate about the safety and advisability of fracking. Will it contaminate the underground aquifers? What about the surface waste, and the close proximity of drill rigs to people’s homes? Fracking has quickly become a debate over energy, climate change, health, water, jobs, and the economy.

At this time, we know of two books on this multifaceted issue, but there will be many more. The latest is Tom Wilber’s Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale.

The Marcellus Formation underlies significant parts of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York State. Its gas-rich shale has spurred a modern day “gold rush”, and that’s the tale Tom Wilber tells through the voices of gas company representatives, local residents, farmers, politicians, and government workers. Eric Schaeffer, former director of the EPA Office of Civil Enforcement had this to say about Under the Surface:

“Tom Wilber’s thoughtful review of the Gold Rush mentality that drives the fracking industry should give pause to those who think cheap natural gas is the answer to our energy problem. Under the Surface makes sure we hear from those who support development of the Marcellus Shale formation, as well as the skeptics.”

And here’s an earlier book, also focused on the Marcellus Shale:

mcgrawraising elijah
The End of Country: Dispatches from the Frack Zone by Seamus McGraw (“This is an environmental tale on the surface, yet something more powerful lurks beneath the soil of this wonderful book. Seamus McGraw is really writing about the enduring complexities and contradictions of the United States. He goes beyond the easy stereotypes of greedy promoters preying on farmers and gives us the unvarnished truth about a twenty-first century energy rush in a place we never expected it.” — Tom Zoellner, author of Uranium). Also pictured above: Sandra Steingraber has written several books on the environmental hazards of everyday life. Her most recent, Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, includes an examination of the health concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing.

Whether you live above the Marcellus Shale, or along the Rocky Mountain Front, fracking and our entire energy future will remain a critical issue for years to come. The Land Library hopes to keep current with all the information that we’ll need!
mcgraw photo

A drilling rig in Meshoppen, Pennsylvania. Once a rig is in place, the work of gas extraction goes on around the clock. — from Seamus McGraw’s The End of Country.

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2 thoughts on “The Relationship We Have with the Land

  1. Tom Wilbur’s book appears to be a welcome balance of views in a pretty contentious matter in the perennial standoff between big oil and plain people. His blog at http://tomwilber.blogspot.com/p/about-me.html adds value to the issue and credence to the book. One must wonder what the relation is, if any, to the decades-long issue of coal seam fires (keyword: Centralia) in that same region — an issue that isn’t foreign to CO when New Castle in Garfield county is considered.

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