By Wenonah Hauter
The New Press, June 2016, 346 pages, $27.95
Book review by Tammy Reiss
Every registered American voter should read Frackopoly because nothing scares corrupt corporations, lobbyists, and politicians more than a well-informed voter. Frackopoly is full of fearlessly exposed history and detailed information. It can enlighten any American who takes pride in the country and wishes to take part in a political movement powerful enough to challenge the status quo.
Frackopoly shows us how the United States became, and is remaining, one of the largest carbon and methane producers on the planet. The author examines the historic crossroad at which our industrialized nation stands, as we decide how to power our electrical grids. Her insights show how current rules favor gas-fired electricity plants and pollution-trading schemes. She shows that while we sit at that crossroad, asleep at the wheel, other sustainable opportunities in the global economy are passing us by, while outside interests are laying claims to our current and future property rights. We can see that a better future can come to be if we keep fossil fuels in the ground, instead of cutting deals and compromising with polluters. We come to understand that it is crucial for all of us to get involved with reshaping our country’s energy future.
The New York Mercantile Exchange started trading natural gas futures on April 4, 1990. Since that time, natural gas and utility companies have been deregulated, fracking has been exempted from national environmental laws, and the oil export ban has been lifted.
Positions advocated by oil and gas industry scientists have influenced some environmental groups to take the position that natural gas, even fracked gas, can be viewed as environmentally beneficial. Low cost gas from fracking has removed incentives for using less energy, and impeded the sustainability energy transition from flourishing. The U. S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has recently predicted that solar will still make up 1% of electrical generation and wind 7% in 2040. (Editor’s note: the most recent data from the EIA shows solar at 1.26% and wind at 7.9% of electrical generation for the first half of 2016. EIA projections have historically been very far off the mark 100% of the time.) Without a dramatic change in energy policy, the outlook appears bleak.
The other side of Frackopoly is the story of a growing number of Americans who will not allow themselves be defined by apathy. They work hard to shine light on so many destructive phenomena caused by the fossil fuel industry. Ordinary citizens fight to rescue their families, homes, and communities from supposed “rights to pollute” our planet. Voters have started changing the conversation and laws so electricity is viewed as a resource to be used judiciously, not deregulated. Frackopoly’s message clearly tells us that as consumers, voters, and taxpayers, it is crucial we demand a clean environment from our leaders. I agree with the author’s opinion, “a mass movement with the political power necessary to create a truly sustainable energy future is needed if we are to survive.”
I proudly worked alongside a number of people mentioned in Frackopoly, and an even larger number not mentioned in the book, in stopping natural gas pipelines, compressor stations, and banning fracking, not only in my hometown but our entire State of New York. The unwavering commitment by so many fearless citizens to stop their communities and states from turning into “sacrifice zones,” gives me hope for the survival of not only our species but the Earth.
Frackopoly can appeal to all who might take interest in its message. If you have been in the trenches fighting for years, you will want to read it. If you are just getting involved with taking back our county’s democracy and our nation’s once clean water, soil, and air from short-sighted, greed-driven decisions, you will want to read it. The same is true if you want to see the country stop abandoning, delaying and weakening our nation’s environmental protections, or even if you simply want a better future and want to find out what is needed.
Sustainability practices and renewable energy technologies are referenced continually in the book. Proving it is no longer necessary to continue using extreme energy practices or subject our economy and electric bills to deliberate supply and demand manipulations made by the energy industry. If more Americans muster the will to act, there will be no need to support and expand an industry that breeds war and conflict or is continually allowed to contaminate our world.
Author Wenonah Hauter is the founder and executive director of Food & Water Watch, a watchdog group with offices around the United States that focuses on corporate and government accountability. Food & Water Watch was the first national organization to support a ban on the extreme energy mining process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Tammy Reiss is a conservationist who teaches and promotes energy efficiency and independence through renewables in the Marcellus Shale region of New York State.