A sociologist offers an ethnography of an unlikely group of environmental health activists.
The densely populated Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex sits atop the Barnett Shale, among the world’s most developed sources of natural gas extracted from the sedimentary rock by the controversial method of hydraulic fracturing. Certain residents, believing they have identified harm to the environment and to their own health attributable to fracking, have vigorously opposed the gas companies’ agenda. The threats posed by fracking, the uncommon urban site—hard by schools, homes, and businesses—and the unusual nature of the aggrieved class—white, middle- to upper-class, highly educated, generally conservative—combine in a petri dish examined by Gullion (Sociology/Texas Woman’s Univ.; October Birds: A Novel About Pandemic Influenza, Infection Control, and First Responders, 2014), a self-identified “academic activist.” The best parts of the book are the author’s handy and efficient summations of the long-standing oil and gas culture of Texas, the conflicts stemming from the state’s mineral and surface rights laws, the tangled mess of regulatory agencies with hazy authority over issues of concern, the day-to-day operations at a natural gas site, and the health hazards that may (or may not) be traced to fracking. Embedded among the activists, Gullion embraces “a feminist ethic of co-created knowledge,” and there follows talk of “positionality,” “sexual ecological violence,” natural spaces as “heteronormative,” “epistemic privilege,” science “problematized,” and “performative environmentalism.” This off-putting language, no doubt the occasion for secret handshakes within her discipline, smothers some good stories Gullion has to tell—for example, about activists looking to be the next Erin Brockovich, about eliciting a straight answer from bureaucrats, about the toll constant vigilance imposes—and too often dulls the general reader’s interest.
Likely to be well-received in the academy and elsewhere largely unread.