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.

MedHum Monday Presents: A Review of Skeleton Crew

FictionReboot2Welcome back to MedHum Monday! Today we present a review of Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber, science writer for MIT. Taking a good look at forensics history, but also at how technology today helps to re-open unsolved cases, the book invites us to question what counts as expertise in a modern, digital world.


Deborah Halber’s The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America’s Coldest Cases (2014, Simon & Schuster)
Review by Danielle Nielsen

indexDeborah Halber’s The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America’s Coldest Cases (2014, Simon & Schuster) explores the networks of part-time Internet detectives who use databases, missing person reports, and often gut instincts to identify decades-old unidentified bodies. Alongside these part-time sleuths are the law enforcement agencies and officers, from local police to coroners to state forensic anthropologists, saddled with the remains but often hesitant to work the public to solve these cases.

Halber’s interest in the Skeleton Crew stems from a May 2010 news story in The Boston Globe that included a sketch of the Lady of the Dunes, a young, unidentified female victim, found in the mid-1970s in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In her own Internet research about the Lady of the Dunes, Halber discovered a network of websites populated by photographs, drawings, and clay and digital re-creations of unidentified bodies and their faces, networks that Halber deemed “a Facebook for the dead.” Halber’s driving question of the book, “Who, I wondered, would go out of their way to create or peruse an Internet morgue?” led her to discover those people, the Skeleton Crew, who spend their available hours perusing these Internet morgues looking to identify these bodies.

Through fifteen chapters, a prologue, and epilogue, Halber deftly interweaves stories about unidentified bodies and the civilians or citizen-investigators who have helped identify remains. The framing narrative for Halber’s investigations is Tent Girl, a young woman whose body was found in eastern Kentucky on May 17, 1968, by Wilbur Riddle, a local well driller. She was wrapped in a tarp and dumped next to a major highway with no identification. Tent Girl would not receive a name or be returned to her family until April 1998 after Todd Williams, a Tennessee factory worker and Riddle’s son-in-law, devoted years searching for clues about Tent Girl’s identity. It was not, however, until the advent of the Internet and easily accessible and searchable databases that Williams would be able to solve the case.

In addition to the Lady of the Dunes and Tent Girl, we meet other unidentified persons and their Internet champions, and Halber chronicles the stories of the Doe Network, one of the most well-known sleuthing communities, the National Missing and Unidentified Missing Persons System, or NamUs, a site for which Todd Matthews now serves as an administrator, and dead sites like the Missing Persons Cold Case Network, Websleuths, and ColdCases.

Halber speaks not only only with the citizen-sleuths, but she also interviews government employees and law enforcement agents like Dr. Marcella Fierro, Virginia’s chief medical examiner and early pioneer and advocate for the unidentified; Mathew Hickman, a statistician for the Bureau of Justice Statistics tasked with determining the number of unidentified remains in the United States; and Mike Murphy, the Clark County, Nevada, coroner.

Home of Las Vegas, Clark County recovers ten thousand bodies every year, a number of which remain unidentified. In his role as coroner, Murphy posted the first government-issued website with photographs or drawings of the unidentified housed in the Clark County morgue, encouraging other states and municipalities to do so and allowing the Skeleton Crew to more effectively match missing persons with unidentified remains.

Part detective non-fiction, part ethnography, Halber introduces readers to a community that is not without its own internal drama. By the final chapters, we learn of the internal fights within the Doe Network over procedures concerning the ability to contact families and law enforcement officials. We understand the suspicious nature with which some law enforcement officials view members of the Skeleton Crew, both named and unnamed. We also see Todd Williams, an administrator for both Doe Network and NamUs overthrown at the Doe Network and banned from the community, as well as others rejected by their community members.

A science writer for MIT, Halber tells the story of these fascinating web sleuths, both humanizing the searchers and the unidentified remains, some of which, like the Lady of the Dunes, remain unidentified by the book’s end, and the scientific research and clear explanations resonate with a general audience. Halber’s Skeleton Crew reveals often unnoted or unnoticed citizens who devote countless hours to skimming missing person boards, looking through photographs and drawings, and using their instincts and research skills to make connections and return these bodies to their families.

About the Reviewer:
Danielle Nielsen is Assistant Professor of English at Murray State University where she teaches courses in composition and rhetoric, professional and technical writing, and British literature.