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Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage

Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage

by Stephanie C. Hamel

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I tried, and retried to read this.. but I just could not get into it. Unfortunate, because I too have a property with 50+acres part of over 200 acres that has been in my family for over 60 years and I too went thru some turmoil in deciding to lease or not.. This book just didn't grab me and keep me into it... sorry... I can't rate it.. because I just couldn't get pass a few pages to read it... :(
  booklovers2 | Nov 24, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Hamel has written a truly captivating memoir chronicling a nearly-three-year period in which she dealt with the issues of gas fracking on an old family farmstead passed down to her, which she and husband Tom use for summer vacations in north central Pennsylvania. The core conflict of her memoir begins with a gas company offering $2,500 an acre to lease the land for gas drilling and fracturing (fracking) the shale beneath the surface to get to the gas. "We'll be 'Texas Rich,'" her husband happily declares. Hamel, with a PhD in environmental health sciences, has a completely different reaction. Thus begins the mild conflict between the two of them.

The memoir actually is poetically written, as stated in the cover notes, with imagery and emotion that puts the reader in the old farmhouse and out on the land Hamel loves. One also shares her difficult internal deliberations and conflicted desires both to make things better for her family and to protect the land. Disclaimer notes in the book state that gas fracking laws have changed since the time period (2008 - 2010) she worked on the book, but this is still a relevant look at the process those who try to live responsibly as caretakers of the planet go through when presented with near-impossible choices.

The book takes us along on Hamel's research process and lets us in on her communications to and from the gas company, environmental experts and others as she tries to find her way to a stand on the issue. Ultimately, her quest to reach a conclusion stalls during the daily routine of taking care of her family, but some of her best writing centers around her interactions with the children and flashbacks to her childhood on the land and her memories of family there. Yet, by the end of the book, her deliberation process has been so long detoured that the gas company is now no longer offering contracts on the land; but horizontal drilling from another location may pass under her land anyway. (The documentary, "Gaslands," was also released which raised public awareness of issues around fracking and made the term a household word.)

Hamel touches on a list of issues, such as eminent domain, that are timely concerns today for citizens all around the country as big power and utility companies stretch their influence across the states seeking more profit. "It is easier to identify a problem than to fix it. It is easier to ignore a problem than to prevent it," Hamel writes during her struggles.

What do we do? Take the money and build a better future for our family and perhaps spend the money on some other environmental issue we CAN win? Or do we keep fighting? My disappointment is that Hamel never made a choice. What came out of it, however, was a lovely memoir that raises important questions and resulted in a good read for lovers of memoir as well as environmental activists.

I found the title a bit misleading in that the marriage wasn't "fracked" at all, unless there's a lot that never made it into the memoir. ( )
  wordpath | Jul 28, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Okay, truth be told, I haven't been able to finish this book. I thought I would enjoy it and maybe someday I will, but I haven't been able to get into it. It does seem to be fairly well written, just hasn't hooked me yet.
  poolays | Nov 17, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I wanted to read this book because I live in Pennsylvania and I was hoping for a nice, balanced look at the issue of fracking. Because of the author's background, I thought I would see some unbiased balance of this issue. I was wrong. If you are looking for a scientific look at the issue, don't read this book. However, the book's title does suggest that it's more of a personal response, so if you are looking for a memoir regarding the difficult decisions about fracking, this may be the book for you. ( )
  karenweyant | Apr 27, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Clever title, but this marriage was already fracked.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program.)

Suppose a natural gas company offered you a small fortune to lease your land for exploration and possible drilling. Would you do it? What if all your neighbors had already signed on, thus transforming your small, idyllic “home away from home” into one giant construction zone, complete with road-clogging traffic and the ceaseless noise of drills and pumps? Further imagine that the energy company has the legal right to extract gas trapped under your property - without your consent – if it drills horizontally from a neighboring property, thus making your “sacrifice” all but futile.

Author Stephanie Hamel doesn’t have to imagine such a scenario; she’s lived it. In Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage (2011), she explores the ethical, emotional, and practical implications she and her family faced when offered to lease their fifty acres of farmland in north central Pennsylvania to a natural gas company at $2500 an acre. Hamel’s parents had purchased the land when she was just a girl, to serve as a vacation home. (“Camp,” they called it. I can relate; my father recently inherited a small cabin in the Adirondacks, similarly bought and built by his parents when he was just a kid. A multi-generational family project, you could call it.) Hamel’s childhood is peppered with memories of escaping to this rural oasis, where her family played at part-time farming, landscaping, and construction work. The existing buildings were old and ramshackle, and required much repair and maintenance. While this might not sound like much of a vacation, Hamel’s clan tackled these projects with much gusto – together. Consequently, the land holds a special significance for Hamel; and so, when her father passed away, she decided to purchase the property from her mother, to keep it in the family, and to carry on the traditions she so enjoyed as a child with her own children.

In 2008, an unnamed natural gas company approached Hamel – and many of the other property owners in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania – about leasing her land for gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. A relatively new procedure in 2008, “fracking” has met with greater opposition in recent years. Among other things, fracking is associated with groundwater contamination, air pollution, the mishandling of toxic waste – and perhaps even earthquakes. Though most of Hamel’s neighbors quickly signed up – many without so much as consulting a lawyer – Hamel dragged her feet. When rumors of drilling began circulating through Wellsboro in early 2008, Hamel was staunchly opposed to drilling. However, as gossip materialized into a pricey contract that fall, she began to waffle: with her husband’s job on the ropes, they could really use the money. Plus she could donate some of the windfall to environmental organizations. Surely this could help to offset any damage done during drilling? And if the gas company could extract gas without her permission anyhow (via the “Law of Capture”), wouldn’t it be foolish not to take the money? Besides, with all her neighbors jumping on the bandwagon, the town was already being sullied by traffic and noise pollution. Complicating matters further was her husband Tom, who welcomed the drilling as a financial boon – hence the titular “fracking of a marriage.”

While this all but promises to make for a compelling read, the result is anything but. Hamel largely based this memoir on a diary she kept during this time – and it shows. (Cue Sarah Silverman’s rant about diaries in her own autobiography, Diary of a Bedwetter: “Unvisited tombstones, unread diaries, and erased video game high-score rankings are three of the most potent symbols of mankind's pathetic and fruitless attempts at immortality.” No one wants to read your diary – yourself included.) Although there is some useful information to be found in Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage – concerning, for example, the legal issues involved in drilling, as well as the possible health effects of fracking - these bits are few and far between. (Indeed, the entire reference section consists of just three items. THREE! Why bother?) This is especially disappointing given the author’s background: though currently a stay-at-home mom, Hamel holds a BS in Chemistry and a joint PhD in Exposure Assessment and Environmental Sciences. You’d think she’d be uniquely qualified to comment on the subject, no?

Instead, the bulk of the book follows Hamel as she waffles back and forth between different alternatives: to drill or not to drill. Accept a surface lease or try to negotiate for a subsurface lease. Take the money and run or use it for the greater good. Etcetera. Not that I have a problem with waffling, mind you – dog knows I do plenty of it myself – but it becomes terribly tedious after just 20 pages, let alone 200. Halfway through you’ll be begging her to make a decision either way; just please, make it stop!

Unsurprisingly, the difference of opinion between Hamel and her husband placed further strain on what struck me as an already unsteady marriage. Other reviewers have jumped on Hamel for her tone toward Tom, calling her “bitter” and “mean-spirited”; however, I thought that she was pulling her punches, if anything. Their marriage plays like a bad 1950s sitcom, with Tom spending most of his free time at the golf course, leaving his wife to almost single-handedly care for their home and their children. (Some weekends saw her vacation with the children alone, while Tom stayed at home and golfed when he was supposed to be working.) The gas lease quickly brings them to an impasse, where disagreements can be grasped but not bridged. Though Tom ostensibly left the decision up to her, he was anything but gracious about it: he mocked her in front of their family, friends, and neighbors; he instigated needless arguments; he even issued vague threats about resentment and what it might cause him to do. (Best case scenario: spend all weekend, every weekend – for the rest of his life – playing golf, with the expectation that she would not, could not object. Neglecting your children? That’ll show her!)

But wait! There’s more! Tom doesn’t “believe” in climate change. (“Believe” in scare quotes, as though climate change is a mythical entity, like Santa Claus or God. But the Hamels are a church-going family, so one can assume that Tom believes in the latter.) Recall that his wife Stephanie is an environmental scientist, and marvel at the hows and whys of their coupling.

Lest you think that I’m biased in favor of the woman, I find Stephanie equally irritating (in that special way that meat-eating environmentalists almost always are!). Faced with Tom’s accusation of hypocrisy – for opposing the drilling on environmental grounds while still engaging in other environmentally harmful behaviors (as though society really allows us much of a choice) – Stephanie begins to reexamine different aspects of her life. She researches hybrid cars, considers installing solar panels on the vacation home, tries to recycle and buy second-hand items as much as possible. All laudable goals – but not once during her environmental hand-wringing does she look to the one area of her daily routine that offers the potential for the most change: her plate.

Wait, that’s not entirely fair; Hamel does grow some of her own food, and tries to buy organic products when possible. Organic foods including (wait for it!) meat, cheese, and dairy (le sigh).

To wit:

“Aware of these challenges, I made more careful choices when I bought food from the store. ‘What am I going to do with that smelly plastic pad that lines the meat carton?’ Maybe we wouldn’t eat meat this weekend.” (page 95)

That plastic pad? It’s the least of your problems. According to none other than the United Nations (bunny-hugging vegans they are not), livestock farming generates 18% of the planet’s total greenhouse gas emissions (possibly more than transport), generates nitrous oxide and methane (both of which have a greater global warming effect than carbon dioxide; 296 and 23 times, respectively), is an inefficient use of both land and resources (livestock dominate approximate 1/3 of the planet’s land mass), and results in air and water pollution. Says Rajendra Pachauri , the head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it [a plant-based diet] clearly is the most attractive opportunity.”

And, on using a grill powered by natural gas:

"As I stared at the gas grill, I realized: I want to use natural gas for my grilled chicken, but I don’t want to have the drilling rigs for that gas in my backyard.” (page 81)

Again, replacing the chicken flesh with vegetables and plant-based “meats” is a more tenable – and arguably effective - solution. Living as we do in a global, interconnected world, we simply don’t have control over all aspects of our life; for many of us, including the Hamels, mealtime offers three opportunities a day to effect real, positive change.

If only!

“That night I served hot dogs for dinner. It was the best I could do, I who used to think, before I had children of my own, so ill of the lazy moms who served them rather than making some homemade vegetarian wonder dish. All I can say is, at least mine are organic hot dogs with no nitrates, those being associated with stomach cancer.” (page 97)

Two words: Smart Dogs. Much like non-vegan food, vegan fare need not always be a complicated, elaborate ordeal.

On fantasizing about farming her own food:

“'Even so, a garden wouldn’t be enough. We would want chickens, for their eggs and meat.' I stopped my whispered musings, paling at the thought. I have seen chickens flapping around after their heads were chopped off. It was a bloody mess. I am happy to leave the butchering to others.” (page 58)

Note the use of “want” versus “need”: “we would want chickens, for their eggs and meat.” This is an important distinction, and underscores the points made above. Meat, eggs, and dairy are for many people a convenience, a luxury – not a matter of survival. In attempting to reduce one’s carbon footprint, then, it’s inexcusable not to forgo these items, both from an environmental and (as hinted at in the second half of this excerpt) an animal welfare (if not animal rights) perspective. Why exploit and kill sentient beings when there’s no need, when doing so has grave environmental consequences, and when alternatives abound?

On a friend who “farms” cows:

“Karen and Ralph Watson returned my call. Karen is an old college chum and Ralph, her husband, is a full-time farmer who supplements his income by laying natural gas pipelines part-time. He is a big man, quiet and gentle, who only throws cows around by their tails when necessary.” (page 101)

How lovely, he sounds like a gem. I’m sure those cows were asking for it.

I could go on, but suffice to say that Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage is, like many environmental books authored by non-vegans, riddled with instances of casual speciesism. Occasionally I’m willing to suffer through these indignities - but only if I’m dazzled by the rest of the book. Not so in this case.

In the end, there is no real resolution to this story. The Hamels were first offered the lease in September 2008; not long afterwards, the recession hit. After several months of arguing, the couple finally agreed to see if Tom could negotiate for a subsurface lease, but by this time the company, given the economic climate, was trying to back out of existing leases. The book trails off in December 2008 with the couple still at odds, leaving open the question of what might happen if and when the company resumes drilling in the future. There’s a short epilogue, absent any real updates, dated 2011 – and that’s it. Anti-climactic, to say the least. (Yes, this also means that most of the book’s 226 pages span just four short months. Like I said, TEDIOUS.)

As she’s writing her memoir, Hamel is dismayed to learn that Josh Fox, when similarly offered a lease, turned his experience into a documentary called GasLand; she’s been scooped! She notes that Fox takes a different tack; while she, “confined at home,” was more “introspective,” Fox toured the country to examine the potential adverse health effects of fracking. Do yourself a favor: rent a copy of GasLand instead.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2012/02/25/gas-drilling-and-the-fracking-of-a-marriage... ( )
  smiteme | Feb 25, 2012 |
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In memory of my dad, Joseph N. Corrao, who loved the farm.
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E-mail To: Frank McLaughlin, NJ Department of Environmental Protection

From: Stephanie Hamel September 10, 2008
Live the questions now, and perhaps, without noticing it, You will live along some distant day into the answeres. -----------Rainer Maria Rilke
When a man dies, if he can pass along enthusiasm to his children, he has left them an estate of incalculable value. -------- Thomas Alva Edison
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