One of Northeast Pennsylvania writer Seamus McGraw’s many stories serves as the perfect metaphor for Americans’ binary understanding of hydraulic fracturing and climate change.
The 56-year-old ex-newspaper reporter travels the country speaking and writing on hydraulic fracturing, living on “coffee and cigarettes” and often arriving for speaking engagements on his Triumph motorcycle. His first book, “The End of Country: Dispatches from the Frack Zone,”describes the early days of the Marcellus Shale in Susquehanna County.
He will speak at a free event at 7 p.m. today at Evans Hall in Keystone College’s Hibbard Campus Center in La Plume Twp.
At one of his recent talks in “a quaint, beautiful little river town,” an audience member stood up and recounted a fracking-related environmental catastrophe that would have made headlines in every newspaper around the world — if it actually happened.
It did not, although the person’s eyes showed true belief, he said. After probing the person’s version of events with a few questions, Mr. McGraw “saw a look of terror on the person’s face, doubting for the first time this had happened.”
“They absolutely believed this event had not only occurred but had been a watershed event upon which they’d almost built their entire presentation,” he said.
As that version of the truth crumbled, the person got up and moved to the door, saying on the way out, “I am not going to argue with you; I am comfortable with my ignorance,” he said.
The event made it into Mr. McGraw’s second book, “Betting the Farm on a Drought: Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change.” He omits the person’s gender, the town and the event because it could have easily come from a staunch pro- or anti-fracker.
“Even our most fevered nightmares have become partisan,” Mr. McGraw said.
His story illustrates how the debate over fracking has ascended to the level of abortion or same-sex marriage as an indicator of political tribe. Those with agendas on either side can obscure the climate benefits of natural gas, the fossil fuel with the smallest carbon footprint, or downplay the real environmental hazards that fracking can cause.
“Anybody who tells you that this can and will be done in a safe fashion with very little impact on the environment is either misinformed or is intentionally misleading you,” Mr. McGraw said. “But anyone who tells you great good cannot come of this as well is doing the exact same thing.”
Mr. McGraw knows first-hand how fractures underground can mirror existing fractures in a community. He chronicled the 2009 standoff that made Dimock Twp. world-famous as a fracking battleground.
“If you had driven through Dimock at the height of the Carter Road standoff, you would have seen it clearly — people on one side of the issue who were steadfast in their opposition to any fracturing,” he said. “Right next door, you would have seen people who were being supported and egged on by organizations that are not from here any more than (filmmaker) Josh Fox and (actor) Mark Ruffalo are.”
The second book picks up on the same Susquehanna County hillside where the first ended, Mr. McGraw said. In it, he travels the country speaking to farmers, ranchers, fishermen and climate scientists, all of whom are finding ways to mitigate and adapt to a warming climate.
What he found was reason to hope for a better world. A self-described dyed-in-the-wool liberal, he found himself sitting for a four-hour conversation with an arch-conservative Illinois farmer and still agreeing on most things.
“It’s a bunch of people whose voices you wouldn’t otherwise hear,” he said of the book. “They don’t fit into the existing narrative, and I’m trying to change the narrative.”
This article was written by Brendan Gibbons from The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.