Virtual book talk explores the human and environment costs of fracking in Appalachia | Pittsburgh City Paper

Virtual book talk explores the human and environment costs of fracking in Appalachia

click to enlarge Virtual book talk explores the human and environment costs of fracking in Appalachia
Image:Princeton University Press
Despite the promises of economic boon that the natural gas industry — and the politicians who boost it — made to people in Appalachia, the region has actually trailed the rest of the nation in job growth, personal income, and population. In addition to the economic consequences, those who live on land leased to natural gas companies face significant health risks from air and water pollution.

On Wed., Aug. 4, New York University professor Colin Jerolmack is joining White Whale Bookstore for a Virtual Book Talk to discuss his most recent book Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town, which explores the personal ramifications of fracking in Williamsport, Pa., and how people decide whether to allow drilling from natural gas companies on their property. The virtual talk starts at 7 p.m. on Aug. 4.

Up from Heaven and Down to Hell, which draws its name from the U.S. real estate convention of property ownership encompassing the air above and the ground below the surface of land, was published in April 2021 from Princeton University Press. In it, Jerolmack draws observations from kitchen-table conversations with residents in Williamsport, nicknamed Billtown, where royalty checks from natural gas companies could help finance college educations, repair damage on houses or cars, or keep family property.

But the price paid in health risks is steep, as fracking sites release chemicals that can cause severe headaches, asthma symptoms, childhood leukemia, cardiac problems, and birth defects. Fracking can also result in water pollution from various stages in the fracking process, including spills of fracking fluids and chemicals and injection of fracking fluids into wells and groundwater resources. Residents reported their water turning cloudy, the natural beauty and quiet of their town being destroyed, and — for some — damage to their homes from big rigs and earth movers.

Jerolmack spoke to people of various political backgrounds to better understand how and why they decided to lease their land, or whether they held off. Through these explorations, Jerolmack encourages empathy for those who made the decision to lease. After all, many benefit from the energy produced natural gas industry, and often those who benefit the most are shielded from having to face, much less feel, the health and environmental devastation of the industry. Meanwhile, Indigenous people, people of color, and poor people are disproportionately impacted.

Jerolmack will be in conversation with Seamus McGraw, journalist and author of The End of Country: Dispatches from the Frack Zone and A Thirsty Land: The Fight for Water in Texas. The event is free or pay-what-you like, with registration required by Wed., Aug. 4, at 6:30 p.m.