The Marcellus Shale formation, rich in natural gas, has the potential to make landowners, gasfield workers and presumably everyone in the region at least a little richer. New York is still studying environmental and health issues that may arise from preparing a well pad, boring a couple of miles into the Earth, redirecting the pipes for a few miles, injecting water, sand and chemicals to fracture (“frack”) the shale and forcing the gas up into pipelines and onto the market. The timeframe is often uncertain, but there has already been one payoff and it is not economic or geological but cultural.
Tapping the Marcellus Shale has brought forth some solid journalistic work and respectable creative efforts. These include the memoir “The End of Country” by Seamus McGraw and Tom Wilber’s book-length study “Under the Surface” (you can listen to both Wilber and McGraw on OFF THE PAGE). Beyond the books and articles there’s the play “Frack You” by Laura Cunningham — which was presented on WSKG-TV — and a radio play entitled “A Bad Case of the Fracks”. Natural gas development and the resistance to it is a theme of Bob White’s novel “Hotbed in Tranquility”. There’s even a rap number called “Think Before You Frack”.
The novel “Fractures” by Lamar Herrin is the most ambitious work of literature to arise thus far from the Marcellus. It is the story of one family, the Joyners, who expect to receive many dollars from the gas wells to be drilled on their property, but who also must deal with fractures in their relationships that seem to make every step and gesture hurtful to someone. Frank Joyner is the family patriarch, a restoration architect who has saved and rebuilt many of the fine old buildings in a region that is never named but certainly resembles the Finger Lakes of New York State. Frank is estranged from his wife, who still lives in the local community, and their three children are very different characters: Gerald lives quietly with his family in California, Mickey is a schoolteacher still in the old family apartment and often at loose ends and Jen is the mother of an 11-year old boy, Danny, who is currently being raised by his grandfather in what seems to be a loving and mutually protective relationship. Danny often seems to be the wisest and steadiest of the family.