"Amity and Prosperity," Eliza Griswold, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 318 pages, $27.
The Pennsylvania governor, the federal government, thousands of people across rural America have leased land to companies doing hydraulic fracturing to mine natural gas.
To those like Stacey Haney in the small southwestern Pennsylvania town of Amity, something so ordinary must be safe. And sitting atop Appalachia’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale the money offers are tantalizing.
However grand their dreams (farmers’ hopes that gas royalties would make them millionaires), or modest (Haney’s wish for $8,000 to build a barn), or abstract (consumers’ faith in clean, cheap natural gas), almost everyone wanted to believe in the fantastic deal. In “Amity and Prosperity,” Eliza Griswold aims to count the costs.
Hydraulic fracturing, as she demonstrates, entails as much violence as the name implies. To frack a gas well means taking roughly 4 million gallons of water, poisoning it with chemicals, some of them proprietary secrets, and forcing this brew, together with some 3 million pounds of clay pellets or silica sand, into a well that extends horizontally a mile or two through shale.
Some of the shale cracks, scientists have found. The results: gas, fractured bedrock, depleted freshwater supplies and toxic waste.
Those near the wells, including those in Amity, now believe they are sick because of them. Home values have sunk. Water must be boiled.
Their beliefs have not been received well by the companies or the government, making you think at one point in the book, “This is why people hate the government.”
The story so far does not have a happy ending.
NEW YORK TIMES