Book review: ‘The Boom’ illuminates pros, cons of fracking

Associated PressApril 19, 2014 

  • Nonfiction

    The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World

    Russell Gold

    Simon & Schuster, 384 pages

The once-obscure oil and gas drilling process known as fracking has generated hundreds of billions of dollars and considerable dissent.

“The Boom” is a thoughtful, well-written and carefully researched book that provides the best overview yet of the pros and cons of fracking. Russell Gold quietly leads both sides to consider other views, and that’s a good thing.

The longtime energy reporter for The Wall Street Journal makes wonky topics such as well casings and methane leaks understandable and brings the fracking battles to life with personal stories that go beyond stereotypes.

For example, his left-wing parents and some friends bought some rocky Pennsylvania farmland in the early 1970s. It turned out to be sitting on top of vast deposits of natural gas. Gold’s parents ponder what they could gain or lose with drilling, see how neighbors feel, and ultimately sign a lucrative Marcellus Shale lease.

Gold writes that fracking presents energy companies and landowners with a variety of challenges. Some embrace drilling. Some resent it. Many have mixed feelings, but in a modern society that uses vast amounts of energy, the fracking boom isn’t going away anytime soon.

Gold captures the genius and the failings of George Mitchell, so-called father of fracking, whose small Texas company experimented with fracking for years. But when state regulators found evidence that his poor drilling practices contributed to ruined private water wells in the early 1990s, Mitchell fought back and ultimately paid only token fines.

Since regulations and even drilling technology are still evolving, “it’s too soon to declare victory in fracking,” and Gold notes that when the drilling boom began, “the unofficial policy was to drill first and ask questions later. How well those questions are heeded will likely determine whether we look back on the shale revolution with relief or regret.”

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