Reboot Review: The BOOM–how fracking changed the world

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Reboot Review!

Russell Gold, an investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal, reports on one of the biggest stories of our time: the rise of “fracking.” Today, we present a review of his latest book, The Boom, available from Simon and Schuster.

The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. By Russel Gold, Simon and Schuster, April 2014.

Reviewed by: Mark A. Schillace, senior engineer, Rockwell Automation

indexNot a day goes by without someone commenting on the process of fracking. For the past 5 years, I have heard arguments for and against it. Oh, the argument will die down for a while, but rest assure, if you are channel flipping, scanning stations on your car radio or surfing the web, you will hear someone talking about how “good” it is for America and the Oil and Gas Industry and/or how terrible it is for the environment. Everyone seems to have something to say; how can the engaged citizen make sense of it all?

Being an Electrical Engineer by degree and having to frequently analyze all aspects of a future design, I explore every side of an issue. Russell Gold’s book The Boom provides answers to many questions that I have been asking for years, like: When were the first wells drilled and fracked? How has fracking technology evolved over time? Who were the major players? Has it become environmentally safer/cleaner? And what will this mean for future gas prices? Without taking sides, Mr. Gold did an excellent job presenting and explaining all of these aspects and more.

I particularly appreciate the historical research that went into writing this book. Some books just scratch the surface, but Gold really digs deep into the bedrock, or should I say shale (appropriate if you are writing a book about fracking.) Gold walks the reader through the oil and gas process from the first wells fracked with explosives in 1947 to the more modern way using water, chemicals, and high pressure pumps. And let us not forget about the dozens of people Mr. Gold interviewed who were key contributors: the geologists who have spent most of their lives studying underground rock formations, the engineers who have staked their reputation on experimental, never tried before drilling and fracking techniques, and the inventors who had enough foresight to invest in a questionable gas extracting method.

Gold also captures the view of the land owner. In some cases, the unlucky soul that bought a piece of land to build a house on so he could raise his family suddenly finds himself, surrounded by unsightly oil and gas wells and the smell of petroleum in the air. How sudden? Within a single year. In other cases, the luckier land owner who has just barely scrapped by as a farmer working the land becomes a multi-millionaire almost overnight. The difference? Who owns the mineral rights—you can’t lease them to the oil and gas company if you never owned them in the first place. And of course, there are other costs, too—environmental costs, future costs. Like a high-pressure undercurrent looking for an unsupported crack, there seems to be trouble just under the surface.

As a city dweller who heats his home using natural gas, I am very happy that our heating bills have been cut by two-thirds. Who wouldn’t be happy about that? But at what other costs? Being a long term planner/ thinker at the end of the day I would rather pay higher gas bills and have fresh water to drink then the alternative. Mr. Gold’s writing style is approachable, not too complex to comprehend and makes you think about all aspects of the Great Fracking Boom. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for answers.

Mark A. Schillace, senior commercial engineer at Rockwell Automation, is responsible for developing strategic products and applications as it applies to automation and information solutions with a focus on Control Logix (PAC’s) that support 1588 PTP Time Synchronization Protocol, Ethernet Switch Topologies and Sequence of Events (SOE) applications that are widely utilized in the Power Industry. He has previously worked as a Controls Engineer designing Precipitator, Rapper, Soot Blower, and Flue Gas Control Systems for the Power, Oil & Gas, Cement, and Pulp and Paper Industry.

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