Posted 24 July 2011, by Drew Gallagher, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company (Fredricksburg), fredricksburg.com
Book review of “The End of Country” by Seamus McGraw
KURT VONNEGUT JR. once wrote: “Dear fu- ture generations: Please accept our apologies. We were roaring drunk on petroleum.” Although others sounded the same alarm for decades before him, the U.S. continues to be slow to respond to the need to diminish our dependence upon foreign oil and retreat from our continued war on Mother Earth.
Seamus McGraw’s new book, “The End of Country,” shows that even when alternative solutions are found, they are usually not free of ugly byproducts. The book deals with the extensive natural gas deposits that lie deep in the foothills of Central Pennsylvania known as the Marcellus Shale. McGraw was raised in this region and his mother still lives there, so he brings a native son’s perspective to the onrush that ensues when a Penn State professor calculates the extraordinary amount of natural gas that lies beneath the Earth’s crust.
The conflict that plays out in this cautionary tale is that the people that live atop the run of Marcellus Shale are some of the poorest people in the Keystone State. Their families, once attracted to the region for the coal and opportunities it afforded, have stayed on for generations that have been increasingly fruitless. But starting in the mid-2000s they were approached by natural gas companies looking to lease the rights to the gas that was below their land.
The prices were initially nominal, but as the shale started to produce more than the initial estimates, the gas companies became increasingly excited and lease values went up to as much as $2,500 per acre. The initial lease prices were only the proverbial tip because the land-owner would also get a percentage of the gas taken from any well dug on his property and, depending upon how successful the well, it could mean millions of dollars to the landowner.
Therein, however, lies the rub. To dig a well on a property requires access roads and extensive deforestation. Although McGraw admits that, given time, the Earth will always heal itself, there remain scars that remind of the gas and water lines that were run.
“The End of Country” often reads like a novel and the characters that populate the narrative seem almost too good to be true. McGraw is an ideal mouthpiece for this ongoing story, for he is not impartial; he’s a freelance writer with a wife and four kids to feed. The money the companies offer to drill on his mother’s property could come in handy. No matter the natural cost.
Drew Gallagher is a freelance reviewer in Spotsylvania County.
THE END OF COUNTRYSeamus McGraw(Random House, $26, 256 pp.)