Walter Brasch begins his new book, Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster, by explaining in the introduction that he never intended to write an anti-fracking book. “But,” he writes “as I accumulated mounds of evidence, I realized that fracking, even under the best of conditions, is a problem.”
There is no question that Brasch, a former journalism professor, did his research before arriving at that conclusion. His 400-page tome is rife with footnotes (over 1,400 citations) and quotes from various experts on the history of Pennsylvania and the industry that has come to dominate much of its politics over the past several years.
It's a story with national implications, as the state is home to the nation's most productive shale gas field, attracting attention from politicians in Washington D.C. — and also providing numerous cautionary tales for other states undergoing similar shale booms.
The book, a remarkably timely primer that seems like it would be well at home in a college classroom, is divided into three main parts.
Part I reviews historical, political and economic issues, beginning with a look back at energy policies nationwide going back centuries. For Pennsylvania, that has meant a long line of extractive industries: lumber companies clear-cut the state, in part to fuel massive iron forges, then coal companies arrived, first delving deep into underground mines then strip-mining the surface and leaving behind 2,500 miles of streams heavily polluted by acid mine run-off.
But it's the state's most recent energy bonanza that is the main focus of the book: the Marcellus shale and the natural gas industry's drilling rush.