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by Seamus McGraw

Pub Date: June 28th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6853-1
Publisher: Random House

Part memoir, part investigative report about what happened when the natural-gas industry arrived in rural northeastern Pennsylvania in 2007.

In his debut, freelance writer McGraw constructs the narrative around land owned by his widowed mother, his sister and himself, as well as by neighbors atop the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation stretching for hundreds of miles in all directions. Natural-gas reserves embedded in deep rock could be extracted with a technology generally known as fracking. But the technology spoils the land, at least temporarily, disturbs the peace and alters daily life forever. On the other hand, the natural-gas exploration companies were willing to pay lots of money for drilling rights. Listening to competing offers, McGraw's bewildered mother learned she might receive as much as $250,000 up front, with the possibility of millions in royalties much later, depending on the success of the drilling. The author’s mother involved him and his banker sister in the difficult decision making, turning portions of the book into a compelling, sometimes humorous family chronicle. McGraw also conducted interviews with residents inclined to accept the money, residents inclined to reject the money, natural-gas executives, environmental regulators within government and elected representatives. The author mines all of the story’s dimensions equally well—environmental, moral and family. After the McGraw family decided to accept money from one of the exploration companies, the family members remained relatively cohesive. Other families, however, began to fray because of the dilemmas.

An unusual—and successful—marriage of memoir and investigative journalism.