If you want to understand shale gas drilling, you have to start with the rock, says Tom Wilber. He should know; he covered gas drilling in NY and PA for the Press & Sun Bulletin since before the Millennium Pipeline, and now has a book out on the topic: Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale.
“Everything central to shale gas production – and the controversy surrounding it – involves understanding rock fractures,” he writes. But the shale isn’t the only thing being fractured in the rush to extract gas. Wilber also writes about the drilling debate fractures communities overlying the Marcellus.
Wilber’s book is steeped in a sense of place. He describes the roads and landscape of Dimock, the trailers and homesteads and contemporary homes tucked along back roads, the stone walls and swing sets of Dimock. He introduces the Carters, the Sautners, and other families brought together unexpectedly by the shale gas rush. He grounds us in history, from the first hand-excavated gas well in Fredonia NY (1825) to the intensely industrialized horizontal hydraulically fractured Marcellus wells of the new millennium.
Under the Surface examines the geology of shale, the technology of drilling, the promise of prosperity. Wilber’s evenhanded treatment gives voice to all involved: landowners and farmers hoping to capitalize on royalty income, regulators and politicians struggling with increasingly divisive issues, and residents-turned-activists trying to protect their water and air from contamination. Even when he is talking facts, complete with endnotes and citations, he maintains his role as a storyteller... one bent on uncovering the “truth”.
His book might be finished, but Wilber isn’t; he continues to follow the issue, writing about it on his blog. “Things are happening on a daily basis,” he says, noting home rule as one of the developing issues.
He’s been keeping tabs on the recent tests of Dimock water wells conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Though the EPA reports that they have found nothing of concern, test data show “traces of sodium, methane, arsenic, chromium, and lithium and other elements at or near action levels,” he says. Those are “red flags” – they indicate a need for more analysis. As for the people in Dimock, the ones who are complaining about contaminated drinking water … “they are victims,” says Wilber. “They certainly didn’t make this stuff up.”