Russell Gold’s 2014 book, The boom: how fracking ignited the American energy revolution and changed the world, is a gripping story of adventure, ambition, science, and being in the right place, at the right time, with the right accidental technology. And good luck. Whichever side you are on in the shale and fracking debate, after reading Gold’s story, it’s easy to see that the unlikely technology of hydraulic fracturing has extended the life of fossil fuels, just when it seemed like renewables might be established.
Gold is a masterful storyteller and storyteller. He steps aside, for the most part, and lets his cast of oilmen, landowners, and finance figures speak for themselves. Yet Gold frames this epic story within his own. His parents, who own a small acreage in Pennsylvania, turn to him for advice when they offer an oil lease for their land. Like so many Americans, the drilling and fracking debate has brought the reality of our gluttonous fossil fuel consumption to its backyards, literally front and back. Yes, in many cases they are generously compensated, but this comes at the cost of stinky truck traffic and fumes, constant noise, not to mention the danger of well water and aquifer contamination. The industrial strength concrete that is supposed to line pipes and wells in many cases has failed. The platforms for the oil drilling wells also need new roads through the pristine field and wide swaths of excavated land for the new pipelines. Gold reports that some landowners soon end buyer’s remorse for leasing their property.
However, it is a complex issue. Gold presents a balanced case for oil shale and natural gas development (and consequently fracking), as it could help reduce our dependence on dirty carbon emissions until renewables such as wind power and solar, can represent a larger part of the energy supply. cake. However, other studies suggest that oil shale drilling may, in fact, release such a large amount of methane gas that natural gas development can offset any gains made by not burning coal. This debate is not resolved by Gold’s book, nor does it attempt to do so; instead, it provides us with compelling details for a more educated and nuanced understanding of the issues.
Another theme that is frequently cited in Gold’s book, and his real-life characters, is the surprising result that fracking has undoubtedly produced. By using the slippery mix of water (lots of water), sand and chemicals, to force abundant layers of hard shale to abandon oil and natural gas, the United States has weakened OPEC’s grip politically and economically. This new profusion of an American home energy source is perhaps enough on its own to sell the benefits of fracking to the American public. Ironically, however, it is the inhabitants of the big cities who will benefit most from this more abundant and cheaper energy supply, and not the owner of the minerals in the rural lands (whose few populations live far from the expensive systems of supply of gas pipelines), whose fields are invaded by noisy diesel trucks, and whose drinking water wells are at risk.
As landowners, whose 70 acres sit on the Niobrara oil shale formation, we are faced with an ethical decision. There is a temptation for the cost of land to get a return on your investment. There is a desire to maintain its beauty and ecological integrity. There is a responsibility to be responsible for the energy that we happily consume. For too long, America’s energy consumption, and its inherent cost of pollution and resource depletion, has been the problem of some other distant country, out of sight and out of mind. NIMB, or Not In My Backyard, has been our national unconscious stance. Now the tough decisions are coming home, and with good reason.
I cannot recommend Gold’s, The explosion high enough. It should be mandatory reading in all homes connected, or not, to the network. We are all together at this crossroads. It’s one thing to have opinions one way or another regarding climate change, fracking, and fossil fuels, but it’s quite another to at least take the time to learn the history, the media, what’s at stake, and possible futures. . Take the time. Read. Then read a little more.