Under the Surface

Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale

Tom Wilber
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Under the Surface
    Book Description:

    Running from southern West Virginia through eastern Ohio, across central and northeast Pennsylvania, and into New York through the Southern Tier and the Catskills, the Marcellus Shale formation underlies a sparsely populated region that features striking landscapes, critical watersheds, and a struggling economic base. It also contains one of the world's largest supplies of natural gas, a resource that has been dismissed as inaccessible-until recently. Technological developments that combine horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") have removed physical and economic barriers to extracting hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of gas from bedrock deep below the Appalachian basin. Beginning in 2006, the first successful Marcellus gas wells by Range Resources, combined with a spike in the value of natural gas, spurred a modern-day gold rush-a "gas rush"-with profound ramifications for environmental policy, energy markets, political dynamics, and the lives of the people living in the Marcellus region. Under the Surface is the first book-length journalistic overview of shale gas development and the controversies surrounding it.

    Control over drilling rights is at stake in the heart of Marcellus country-northeast Pennsylvania and central New York. The decisions by landowners to work with or against the companies-and the resulting environmental and economic consequences-are scrutinized by neighbors faced with similar decisions, by residents of cities whose water supply originates in the exploration area, and by those living across state lines with differing attitudes and policies concerning extraction industries. Wilber's evenhanded treatment gives a voice to all constituencies, including farmers and landowners tempted by the prospects of wealth but wary of the consequences, policymakers struggling with divisive issues, and activists coordinating campaigns based on their respective visions of economic salvation and environmental ruin. Wilber describes a landscape in which the battle over the Marcellus ranges from the very local-yard signs proclaiming landowners' allegiances for or against shale gas development-to often conflicting municipal, state, and federal legislation intended to accelerate, delay, or discourage exploration.

    For millions of people with a direct stake in shale gas exploration in the Marcellus or any number of other emerging shale resources in the United States and worldwide, or for those concerned about the global energy outlook, Under the Surface offers a worthwhile and engaging look at the issues.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6429-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. PROLOGUE: Cracks in the Rock
    (pp. 1-8)

    From a distance, the stratified band of black shale running along the east shore of Cayuga Lake is hard to pick out from an ensemble of natural features—rocks, trees, hills, and water—that compose the landscape of the Finger Lakes region of New York. Viewed from across the lake, the rock is a thin charcoal-colored border just above the shoreline, occasionally disappearing behind cottages and boathouses. A landscape artist might incorporate it into the broader picture as a shaded accent above the beach. To geologists, shale is a defining aspect of the landscape and the Marcellus layer, well below...

    (pp. 9-29)

    Ron and Jeannie Carter were in their late sixties and on a fixed income when the landman parked his luxury sedan in front of their trailer home. He wore a cowboy hat, boots, and an oversized buckle on his belt. He was not a big man but, striding confidently up to the drive, he cut a striking figure; and he brought uncommon news: Cabot Oil and Gas—a company from Houston, Texas—was interested in leasing the Carters’ land for natural gas exploration.

    The year was 2006. In the Endless Mountains of northern Pennsylvania, where the Carters lived, visits from...

    (pp. 30-69)

    For Jackie Root, the Marcellus story began about 70 miles west of Dimock, near her home in Jackson Township, Pennsylvania. In fall 1999, years before the Marcellus rush drew landmen to the Endless Mountains, Jackie was driving her pickup truck on an errand at a neighboring farm when she noticed small blue and yellow flags lining Picnic Grove Road. Although there was something about them that looked peculiar, she dismissed them as survey work for road maintenance, or perhaps reference points for the 911 system the county was developing at the time. The next day, when she encountered a convoy...

  6. 3. GAS RUSH
    (pp. 70-92)

    The caravans rolled into Dimock, Pennsylvania, two years after the landmen first began knocking on doors. Tankers and flatbeds with oversized loads navigated lanes threading through the Endless Mountains. One convoy advanced along Meshoppen Creek Road, a tar and stone route wrapping around Ken Ely’s mountain. With transmissions whining and blasts of compression from Jake brakes, the rigs decelerated for a hard left and then throttled up a steep unpaved access road. After bouncing along for several minutes, the trucks neared the top and slowed as they passed a small cabin hidden in a stand of trees near a glassy...

    (pp. 93-128)

    Several years before Norma’s well exploded, Terry Engelder, the shale expert from Penn State, began paying attention to early attempts to test unconventional drilling in the Marcellus. As production from the Barnett Shale flourished in Texas in the first decade of the millennium, companies began testing slickwater fracking on the Marcellus in Pennsylvania. Prior to tests by Cabot on the Teel property in Dimock in 2006, Range Resources had been working on a project in southwest Pennsylvania for two years without revealing its progress.

    That all changed on Monday, December 10, 2007. Range reported bringing five horizontal Marcellus wells on...

    (pp. 129-164)

    The residents of Dimock lacked the benefit of economic studies, investigations, exposes, and public hearings when they signed leases in 2006 and 2007. They learned about shale gas development on their own.

    By fall 2008, soon after the Carters’ and Sautners’ water went bad, stories began circulating about other suspect wells next to drilling operations. Pat Farnelli said her water had a foul taste and that it was making her and her kids sick. Michael Ely, Scott Ely’s cousin and next door neighbor, could light his water on fire when he placed it in a jug. So, too, could Bill...

    (pp. 165-204)

    Vera Scroggins, the independent-media videographer and advocate, joined a small assemblage of reporters and photographers on the Carters’ front lawn and unpacked her video equipment. News was about to happen. It was a mild day in late November 2009, a year after Ken Ely first gave Victoria a tour of Cabot operations on his property. Since then, in addition to the six gas wells on Ken’s land, Cabot had drilled fifty-seven others within 9 square miles and had obtained permits for sixty more. The Pennsylvania DEP had logged more than twenty spills and accidents related to these operations, issued seven...

    (pp. 205-222)

    Dewey Decker had no regrets about becoming a gas millionaire, except for maybe that he missed his cows. After signing over his mineral rights to XTO for $2.77 million, the leader of the Deposit Coalition in New York sold off the dairy herd and replaced them with beef cattle, which required less work and suited his idea of retirement. But unlike the docile Holsteins that were accustomed to intimate handling on a daily basis, beef cattle tend to be independent, ornery, and “just as happy to run you right over as not,” he informed me. Sentimental differences aside, Dewey’s love...

  11. EPILOGUE: Back On Carter Road
    (pp. 223-228)

    Josh Fox’s call to “shut them down” came two years after Ken Ely had tried to do just that on the quarry road that ran along the ridge of his property. It was easy to envision, if Ken were alive, advocacy groups recruiting him for their cause, an example of a common citizen exploited by Big Energy. There were others like this—including the Sautners—who spoke at the Philadelphia protest and at other rallies organized by activists in cities throughout the northeast. Perhaps Ken might have joined them, but I doubt it. His fight was driven by practical matters,...

    (pp. 229-232)
  13. List of Figures and Maps
    (pp. 233-234)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 235-262)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 263-272)