Amity and Prosperity

Amity and Prosperity

One Family and the Fracturing of America

FSG, 2018 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples
  • Insider's Take


Guggenheim fellow Eliza Griswold tracked the Haney family and their community’s battle against the oil and gas industry after fracking came to their town. Her tale of 45 people in four lawsuits details a tight web of energy production, politics and environmentalism; health and infrastructure costs; urban and rural ideas of energy creation and use; the kitchen table and the state supreme court; and faith and scandal. These issues are complex, alarming, tragic and ongoing. All energy and water consumers who value their health will welcome Griswold’s insights into the benefits and harms of fracking.

Fracking splinters below-ground rock to release gas that flows to the surface. 

Griswold begins her tale by explaining that when the United States found that it has sufficient natural gas reserves to provide electricity for decades, the nation shifted away from dependence on foreign oil by using fracking to extract gas. The fracking process draws gas out of shale. Producers begin, Griswold explains, by shearing off the top of a hill to create a flat place for a well pad. They build two waste pits: The smaller one, the “drill cuttings pit,” is about the size of an Olympic pool. It holds the rocks and mud that come off the drill as it powers through more than a vertical mile of the Earth. The larger pit – approximately four acres – is a “centralized impoundment,” and it holds potentially toxic flowback and liquids.

Griswold details the entire process: when drilling begins, frackers drive a vertical well. Then, they drill perpendicular horizontal wells approximately a mile long. They drive pressurized water and chemicals – some harmless, some toxic – into the ground. The downward-blasting fluid cracks the shale. When the rocks splinter, gas flows to the surface, along with 10% to 40% of the fracking liquids and subterranean bacteria seeing daylight for the first time since prehistory.

About the Author

Eliza Griswold, a distinguished writer in residence at New York University and a Guggenheim fellow, also wrote The Tenth Parallel and Wideawake Field.

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