As the title suggests, the book focuses on the people involved in this fascinating story. In true journalistic style the author Gregory Zuckerman, conducted numerous interviews to chronicle the events that have made fracking into such a hope and such a controversy. At the centre of the action are the so-called wildcatters, a unique group of individuals with a sense of passion, ambition and obstinate belief that is uniquely American. Set against the oil and gas giants they are the independent mavericks of the energy business determined to battle against mass opinion and keep American energy ‘home-grown’.
Alongside the wildcatters Zuckerman introduces various cameo roles such as the cowboy who made millions from the shale under his land and the couple who relocated their family to benefit from the modern-day ‘gold rush’ produced by fracking. However, despite this range of perspectives what’s missing are the voices of the environmentalists. Some are mentioned in passing such as Josh Fox who made the film Gasland but there is no real discussion about this aspect until the final ‘Afterword’ section where Zuckerman makes the valid but short point that the scientific jury is still out. If it’s the nitty-gritty of the process and environmental impacts you’re after, the text is quite thin but if it’s detail on company dealing and share prices the book more than delivers. Hardly a surprise considering Zuckerman is a writer at the Wall Street Journal, specialising in big financial trades and the energy revolution.
However the real joy of The Frackers is the background it provides to the faceless pioneers, giving them families, values, struggles and of course financial ups and downs. Zuckerman doesn’t cast them in a better light but definitely one with a broader beam so the reader can see their different profiles. Like the interesting fact that the grand-daddy of fracking George Mitchell was a great admirer of Buckminster Fuller and built his own sustainable housing development. It is these ‘other sides’ of people that the book manages to draw out, weaving in quotes from the extensive interviews to give the story colour whilst ratcheting up the drama with the industrial and financial twists and turns.
As the narrative jumps between the different wildcatters, their stories start to converge on present day events. Allowing the reader to piece together the jigsaw, Zuckerman drip-feeds information on technological progress such as making the perfect fracking cocktail, developing horizontal drilling, exporting liquefied natural gas and multi-staged fracking. Perhaps one criticism is the constant cliffhanger endings but that’s the nature of the book and it does have the predictable if slightly annoying effect of encouraging the reader to continue.
With the current penchant for documenting and fictionalising ongoing crises, The Frackers undoubtedly has the potential to be dramatised. The question is will it be a modern day Dallas, a gritty Coen Brothers movie or even a ‘Meet the Frackers’ comedy. And perhaps more importantly what will the European version look like?