Seamus McGraw Visit

On Wednesday, September 24, author Seamus McGraw visited Penn State University as part of the Mary E. Rolling Reading Series.  McGraw’s 2011 book The End of Country, a memoir/journalistic investigation, explored natural-gas drilling in McGraw’s hometown in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.  But before McGraw read from Country and his upcoming book, due for release in Spring 2015, he asked the audience in Palmer Auditorium a simple question: “what is fracking?”

A girl tentatively raised her hand, offered an answer about wells, water and chemicals blasted into the underlying shale, and gas migrating upward because of the intense pressure.

McGraw nodded, clasped his hands, and proceeded to make an important distinction.  One misconception people have about fracking, he said, is they think fracking fractures the ground, forcing shale to move upward through the breaks it creates.  In reality, fracking exploits existing fractures within the ground, monopolizing on cracks that have always lurked underfoot.  To McGraw, this metaphor summarizes the entire fracking industry: it doesn’t fracture the towns and communities that live over the shale deposits—it just exacerbates problems that have always hidden there, below the surface.  He continued to explain that there’s no black-and-white morality when it comes to fracking.  Fracking is a process that garners enormous benefits, and one that carries heavy costs.  It’s a process about which McGraw hopes American can hold a conversation, a genuine one that embraces the gray area surrounding the social, political, and economic consequences of drilling for natural gas.

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