“Fracturing” means breaking. A bone can fracture. So can a family or community when it’s threatened and destabilized.
High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing, or “fracking” is a way to drill for natural gas in rock found deep below the earth’s surface. A well is drilled down deep into rock, and then the drilling turns sideways (horizontally) drilling as long as one to two miles underground. Then, millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and 80-300 tons of chemicals are pumped into the well to create breaks in the rock to release the gas.
Reporter Eliza Griswold shows how fracking can fracture families and friendships in her heartbreaking new book, Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America.
The book recounts the tragedy that unfolds when a natural gas boom gets the better of two small Appalachian towns in Pennsylvania. One town is named Amity, which means friendship, harmony, cooperation, goodwill, and understanding, as in “this arrangement will foster greater amity between us.” The other, Prosperity, sounds like wealth.
The irony, of course, is that fracking almost always undermines the amity that takes some communities generations, if not, centuries to build. It also often fails to fulfill on its promise of delivering untold riches to people whose lands are fracked. Instead, fracking can end up pitting neighbor against neighbor in ugly confrontations. Meanwhile, the highly toxic gas extraction practice pollutes ground water and the air, and can poison people living near a fracking well head. Rather than pay landowners rich rewards, fracking operations can see people forced to abandon their homes and confront bankruptcy and foreclosures.
This story is happening all over the U.S., but Griswold focuses on one family, the Haneys, and the town of Amity to tell the tale.
One Family’s Story
It starts over seven years ago, when Stacey Haney, a nurse and struggling mom of two, succumbs to the pitch from a Texas-based energy company promising significant riches if she allows them to frack on her land.
The opposite happens. Once a drill site is erected and operational, Stacey’s kids start to get sick and her pets start to die. She asks the company, Range Resources, for help. But they deny responsibility, forcing Stacey to join with some of her neighbors and a dogged husband-and-wife legal team to try to figure out why her family is getting so ill and to get compensated for their increasing medical bills.
When Griswold started investigating, Harley, her son, was only 14 and dreamt of going to college and becoming a vet. He eventually got so sick, and missed so much of his 7th grade year, that his mom had to enroll him in a homebound program. Similarly, his sister Paige had dreamed of working with animals, maybe becoming a zookeeper. Instead, she started struggling in school. Though in the tenth grade, her reading level was stuck at fifth grade, the same year Harley got sick.
Stacey wasn’t having it, and much of the book recounts her “battle for their lives.” But it’s a long and devastating journey. Initially, Stacey worries that, if she speaks out, Range Resources will cut off her supply of fresh and safe drinking water, which they agreed to deliver once it became clear her water had been contaminated. Eventually Stacey needs to move out of her home because it is too contaminated. When she does, her home is ransacked by scavengers who do $35,000 worth of damage as they rip out wire, fixtures, and anything else they can sell. The damage is so extensive, Stacey leaves them a note that says, in part, “I hope you feel good about what you have done and I hope you know that the contamination in this house causes cancer, so keep coming back…And when you’re spending all your scrap money, I hope you think about what you are taking away from my children.”
A New Mom Activist
Stacey never saw herself as an activist, reports Griswold. In fact, her entire family voted for President Trump. But the President has done what he said he would do. He made good on his campaign promise to rollback environmental protections and encourage much more fracking. Meanwhile, as Moms Clean Air Force has reported many times, more and more communities are suffering the same fate as Amity and Prosperity.
Griswold doesn’t see a fix to the situation any time soon. The age-old promise of wealth and prosperity, she says, keeps enticing landowners to make the same mistake Stacey made when she signed over the mineral rights to their land.
The author hopes people will see the scenario for what it is: “a fantasy,” she declares.
If you read her book, you’ll agree.
PLEASE READ our new report, “Face to Face with Oil and Gas: Voices from the Front Lines of Oil and Gas Pollution.” It provides more accounts from families living with the impacts of oil and gas pollution.