BY ALEX POTTER Seamus McGraw recently published The End of Country, a heart-breaking expose of the unexpected/unintended consequences of hydraulic fracturing, or, “fracking,” on the lives of the people in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania who have lived off the land for generations. As the book points out, it is both a curse and a blessing that they live on top of the Marcellus Shale, the world’s second largest subterranean deposit of natural gas. Four years ago, McGraw knew nothing about natural gas or the controversial techniques for extracting it from the ground. Amidst financial turmoil, McGraw and his family agreed to lease their property to Chesapeake Energy for the right to drill for gas in their backyard. At the behest of his mother and his own conscience, he decided to resurrect his abandoned investigative journalism career and teach himself everything he could about tapping the ocean of gas under his feet. The book is a thorough, humane study of the efforts of a courageous few who have stood up to the industry with varying degrees of success, and includes the first steps in how to learn from their examples. In this interview, he discusses the new vs. the old Department of Environmental Protection, the recent contamination disaster in Dimock, Pa., and the compromises that must be made in order to do this thing the right way. We can’t stop this thing, he believes, but we can minimize its harms if we educate and assert ourselves. McGraw will be at Headhouse Books (619 South 2nd Street) at 7 PM tonight to discuss the book. His appearance has been timed to coincide with the pro-fracking Marcellus Shale Coalition‘s conference being held at the Convention Center today and tomorrow as well as the concurrent Shale Gas Outrage anti-fracking protest.
PHAWKER: Your book doubles as both a technical explanation of fracking and a personal memoir. You write very honestly about your personal accomplishments…
SEAMUS McGRAW: …Or lack thereof…
PHAWKER: …And you mention several times throughout the book how this project was a special opportunity for you. You also came into a little money over the drilling. Do you consider writing this book and speaking up for the people of rural Pennsylvania an opportunity to redeem yourself?
SEAMUS McGRAW: I’m gonna give you a couple different answers to that question. The book threw me a lifeline, one that I didn’t necessarily want. I was ready to bag the whole [journalism] profession, I really wanted out. Then the contract came through for the book and it gave me the opportunity—or, sentenced me, for the time being—to remain a writer. It gave me another opportunity—and I’ll be perfectly blunt about this—to put a barrier between myself and the benefits, such as they were, accrued from the Marcellus. I could then turn around and claim, somewhat artificially, the moral high ground, and say this is my benefit from the Marcellus, not the revenue from the gas which, to this day, I’m still very ambivalent about. But it also gave me another opportunity, and this goes right to the heart of your question: it’s not so much to redeem myself, in terms of writing this book, as expressing as best I could not just the attitudes, but the character of the people who live in the endless mountains of rural America and not to redeem myself. I’ve already told you that I’ve given myself the hypocritical out on the money by being able to say, “My money from the Marcellus comes from my labor, not from something that’s just simply bubbling up out of the ground,” and it keeps me in the [writing] business. With regard to the people—and this is the most important issue in the book, quite honestly—rural people in general—the people in the endless mountains are a perfect example of this—are turned into cartoons, they’re used like pawns to make points by far more sophisticated people, so to speak, frankly by both political parties. You have one side referring to them, drawing cartoons of them and saying, “This is the backbone of America,” when they don’t give a good goddamn about these people. And you’ve got the other side turning around and saying “They’re the gods, guts and guns crowd,” and they don’t understand these people. What I tried to do in the book—because regardless of what my failings are, I’m still a writer and I’m still one of these people—is to try to point out that these people are far more savvy, far more knowledgeable, they have far more character than the people on either side of all of the debates that are going on in this country—the most important one being energy—who try to exploit them.
PHAWKER: How so?
SEAMUS McGRAW: I’m gonna take this a step further because I want to talk about what this book really is about. The book obviously is about the Marcellus and it’s about all of the promise that it offers and about all of the perils that it carries with it. But the truth of the matter is whether or not we want this thing, it’s happening, and it’s going to continue to happen. So the real question is, “Can we do it in a way that maximizes the benefits of it and minimizes the risks from it?” And can we do that in a country that hasn’t got the wisdom or the vision from its leadership to establish a policy to do it. It hasn’t got the vision or the wisdom from the industry to see what’s in its own best interest in the long run. So that question falls where that question has always fallen on these issues: on the shoulders of the people on the ground. The Ken Elys of the world, the Victoria Switzers of the world, the Rosemarie Greenwoods, the Cleo Teeles. Those are the people who are carrying the weight for the rest of the country and I thought it was about goddamn time that America was really introduced to them instead of some goddamned cartoon.
PHAWKER: You take a realistic angle, acknowledging that fracking is inevitable but you believe that a method of doing it right by the people is possible. The book is at times morally ambiguous, however. Can you shed some light on that?
SEAMUS McGRAW: Let’s lay out what it is that we’re really facing. When I was a kid, you could drive the roughly six miles from Route 6, just outside of Duncannon to my farm and pass I think it was about 18 dairy farms. Do you know how many are left there today? There are two working dairy farms. Why did those farms go out of business? Because 40 years ago, we hit Hubbert’s peak [the threshold that marks the extraction of the majority of the earth’s oil supply]. Thirty years ago, we ripped the solar panels off the goddamned Whitehouse, and have done nothing since. In the meantime, we’ve fought at least three wars that were at least in part to preserve the flow of out oil, and [the price of] oil has continued to skyrocket. We lost a couple of dollars today, lost a couple yesterday on the price of a barrel of oil, it went up a little again today… We’re looking in the foreseeable future at oil never slipping below $85 a barrel, which was breathtakingly expensive four years ago, and now is considered the norm. $100 a barrel is more likely. What happens when we hit that price? Farms fail because every single thing that goes into farming is dependent on the price of oil. Forty per cent of every dollar you pay for a gallon of milk is energy, and that’s going to go up. In that same period of time, the farmers haven’t gotten anymore for their milk. One by one they were choked off, and that’s echoing throughout the entire economy. That’s one aspect of it. When those economies are choked off, the children of the farmers who have no place to go? They tend to end up in the military. About the time that the first land men showed up, 59 of those kids shipped off to Iraq with the National Guard. About the time the first well came through, eight of those kids were killed in a roadside bomb in Fallujah. One of the guys who funded the Swift Boat Veterans in 2004, when I told him that, he said to me, “You know what? I won’t tell you this was a war for oil, but I will tell you that if there wasn’t oil, there wouldn’t have been a war there.”
PHAWKER: Ok, what about the effect on the environment?
SEAMUS McGRAW: At the same time that’s been going on, most reasonable scientists have been telling us that we are coming very near the tipping point in terms of global climate change. That the amount of greenhouse gas that we’re pouring into the atmosphere, the amount of coal we’re burning, is bringing us closer to disaster. And we’ve done nothing about it. We have no easy available options to us right now. None. Right now, the state of Pennsylvania has sixteen wind farms that generate a staggering—for renewable energy—11 percent of the electricity we use. There is virtually no likelihood that within the next few years, the next generation even, we’re gonna be able to do anymore than that. Maybe 15 or 20 percent, that’s it. So what do we do? We’re faced with a series of bad choices. We recently, just a couple weeks ago, abandoned what was theoretically the most promising project to explore clean coal technology. We don’t have the resources or the will or the vision right now to turn around and really explore ways to maximize the renewables. We can’t grow the biofuels without a great deal of input from fossil fuels. So what do we do? Right now we have damn few choices. The most immediate choice is the one that offers a way out, but only temporarily. As one of their biggest supporters, Terry Engelder [a Penn State geologist who performed early calculations about the size of the Marcellus], says, “If we’re still burning this stuff in thirty years, we’re screwed,” but right now we don’t have any other choice. So we’re going to have to do this. The question is, Can we do it right? Can we do it in a way that it doesn’t destroy what’s left of the country? Can we do it in a way that it may actually be able to revitalize those farms? Can we do it in a way that doesn’t poison our water or our air? I believe we have the mechanical ability to do that. The question is, “Do we have the will to do it?” The only way to create the will to do it is through the character of people who are willing to push forward, not the people who are standing on the one side screaming, “Drill, Baby, Drill!” they’re morons. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool leftist and I’ve looked at some of my fellow travelers standing athwart this thing crying, “Halt!” and I think to myself, some of the arguments I hear from them are reminiscent of the Tea Party, they’re our own Tea Partiers. Neither one of them are going to be able to help us achieve what we need to achieve. The people who are gonna turn around and determine whether or not this can be done correctly are the people on the ground who are gonna be able to push our elected officials and the industry what is in all our best interests.
PHAWKER: What did you think about Gasland?
SEAMUS McGRAW: I’ll say this, if anybody picks up this book expecting it to be Gasland or one of T. Boone Pickens’s rants, they’re gonna be sorely disappointed. I used to have a banjo. I hocked it. I still have my gasmask, though. You know where I got my gas mask? It was a gift from the Israeli government back when I was covering scud missile attacks during the war for oil 1991 tour. So I came to view this thing a little bit differently.
PHAWKER: So you do have a background in energy?
SEAMUS McGRAW: No. I didn’t know the first goddamn thing about this when I started. I’m a journalist. I’ve been a journalist for thirty-five years. Most of what I covered was crime, which quite frankly made me uniquely suited to cover this particular story…that’s a half-joke. When dear old mom calls me up and told me about [contractors] up on the hill, I couldn’t tell you the difference between Marcellus Shale and Cassius Clay. I’d never even heard of it. I had an interest in the energy issue, like I think any American does, because there is not issue that more directly mirrors the nonsensical debates that we have that are ripping this country apart and putting us in a position where we achieve nothing. The debate over the Marcellus and energy in general is a microcosm of the way we debate everything in this country, but beyond that point, there is no single issue on the American agenda right now that more directly impacts everything in this country than the issue of energy. It directly impacts environmental questions, economic questions, educational questions, health questions, and national security questions. There is no question I can come up with off the top of my head where I cannot find a very significant nexus between the energy issue and any issue.
PHAWKER: Have you always had an environmentalist streak in you?
SEAMUS McGRAW: I was driving around in a 1982 avocado green Mercedes 300 SP that I had converted to run on waste vegetable oil. We did a piece in Playboy about her. It’s an issue that I’ve been very passionate about. I consider myself an environmentalist. I live in the damn woods. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination my expertise, so in order to do this, I really had to put myself to school.
PHAWKER: There’s a pervading theme of superstition in the book. You talk about your Irish-Catholic upbringing, your father’s belief in his pancreatic cancer being Karmic punishment for dumping motor oil into gopher holes on his farm… Do you think the earth is going to “get us back” for this, and if it does, is the punishment going to come down on the people or the drillers?
SEAMUS McGRAW: I think you may be missing what I was driving at, and that’s probably my fault. Let me explain to you where I come down on this. I am a Mick and I’m always gonna be a Mick. Feel free to use that word, it’s the way I describe myself all the time. As a Mick, I have this constant belief that the universe is conspiring against me, but I also believe absolutely that whether or not that conspiracy succeeds is entirely up to me. It’s entirely up to how much backbone, how much character, how much vision, and how much strength I can show. The most important line, if you want an insight into the whole book, is that old thing my dad and everybody else used to say, “It’s not how hard a punch you can throw; it’s how hard a punch you can take and get back up.”
PHAWKER: That’s a stark way of putting it. But you’re hopeful, aren’t you?
SEAMUS McGRAW: I told you that I’m in the woods in Bushkill, and this is a point I’ve brought up a number of times. I live on ten acres that is adjacent to a 5,000-acre reserve—a Boy Scout camp that’s been put into conservancy—and that adjoins to the 70,000 acre Delaware State forest here in Pennsylvania. I can literally walk from the back of my house for more than twenty miles and not cross a major road if I choose to. You know what else I won’t cross? A tree that’s older than my father would have been. This place has been clear-cut at least twice in the last two hundred years, and yet people come up here and they talk about how wild it is, and how deep into the forest we are. And we are. It’s not the same forest it was in 1682 by any stretch of the imagination. The chestnuts are gone, we’ve lost them to blight. Our hemlocks are under attack from parasites. There’s a lot more pin oak then there ever was. It’s as green and as dense as it ever was. There’s ten times as many dear out there right now as there were when the first white settlers turned up in this area. There’s bobcat, there’s bear, and some of the locals even swear they sometimes run across catamounts, although I don’t believe them. There’s raccoon, beaver… The land here healed. It didn’t heal the way it was, but it evolved into something like what it was. It’s reached its own natural equilibrium.
If I drive in the other direction, west of Philadelphia, about eighty miles from here, I’ll hit a place called Centralia. Centralia burst into flames underground in 1964. It’s still burning today. You go there, and it’s a ghost town. Some of the front stoops are still there but the houses are gone. You can go there in the dead of winter when there’s snow everywhere else, and there’s no snow on the ground because the ground is hot to the touch. That place is never gonna be inhabitable in my lifetime, my kids’ lifetime, or their kids’ lifetime. Those are the two visions of what can happen as a result of [fracking]. I believe, because I’m a Mick, that the universe is conspiring for it all to become Centralia when all is said and done with the Marcellus, but I believe we have the character to make it the woods of Monroe and Pike Counties. It’s up to us. So when I talk about the superstition, I’m Irish, so superstition is a big part of it, but so is personal responsibility. That personal responsibility becomes all the more important because we have leaders in both parties, but more so in one than the other, who don’t have the will or courage, or brains, really, to understand just how big an opportunity this is, and how big a challenge this is. They’re not doing anything. There are some.
PHAWKER: What about former Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection John Hanger? He was brave enough to face Josh Fox in Gasland.
SEAMUS McGRAW: He’s one of the guys who have taken a great deal of heat since this thing started. He’s been hammered from both sides, and I think wildly unfairly, because I think that guy did a remarkable job in a tremendously short period of time, by taking a supervisory organization in the DEP that basically hadn’t had any new blood in oil and gas expertise in twenty years. Our oil and gas industry in this state died in about 1990. It revived with the Marcellus, and when it revived, it revived with the technology that had developed while our state regulators were basically in hibernation. In little more than two years, in a period of time when we were not exactly flushed with cash, Hanger was able to turn around and bring some of those regulations well into the 21st Century, was able to increase the number of people working on this stuff and increase the understanding [of fracking] at a tremendous rate and I give him immense credit for that. We’re still half a step behind the industry, and we’re always going to be. This thing is always going to evolve faster than we can regulate it, and again, [the responsibility] falls down on the people on the ground.
PHAWKER: What about the current administration? Where do we go from here? What exactly do the people need to do?
SEAMUS McGRAW: We’ve had a change in administration, and I’m not at all sanguine about it. I will say that on the couple of occasions that I’ve seen [the DEP in action]—and I am pleasantly surprised about this—that when they have responded, they have responded pretty aggressively. I have not seen them letting up. I don’t know whether that will be sustained throughout the course of the administration. I certainly hope that it will be. I think that the stuff that Hanger set in motion has continued with his successor, Michael Krancer. Let’s hope that it continues. I’m comfortable with that. I’ll give them a certain amount of credit regarding something else: I think that at least in terms of the first tentative steps, the idea of bringing together the Marcellus Shale committee was a good idea in terms of bringing together various voices to begin to articulate a direction this thing should go in. Look, if we’re going to get any kind of benefit out of this, and minimize the risks, it can’t just be that we’re pulling this stuff out of the ground and piping it out of state to burn in New York City. This has to be used to lower our over all carbon footprint here in Pennsylvania and across the United States. We have to use this to wean ourselves off of coal. We have to turn around and support our weak transportation; we have to se this to support our manufacturing. We have to use this to run—you’ve got steel plants coming on line again in Pittsburgh to deal with the demands that are being placed on our infrastructure by this development and yet we’re burning coal to do this. We could be burning gas like they do in Russia in order to smelt the steel that we need to develop the Marcellus. We could use it to generate the nitrogen we need to turn around and restore our fields that are depleting through the use of corn for biofuels and maybe produce more biofuels and more food in the process. We could be doing a lot of these things, which we are not doing, if we were to articulate a vision. The committee is a good idea to start, but so far I haven’t seen a great deal come out of it. We’ll see what comes out of it in the long run but I’m not real optimistic. I’m hopeful, but I’m cautious. Most importantly, in order to effectively do this, and not just police it, but maximize its benefits, and extend these benefits not just to the broadest number of people themselves, but quite frankly to the industry itself. We need to have a reasonable tax policy in this state. That’s the thing, I think, that has become the real stumbling block, because I have seen no willingness in this administration to even acknowledge that that’s needed, let alone to support it. They’ve been angrily opposing this idea of a local impact fee. That gives you an idea of why I’m not particularly optimistic. A local impact fee addresses some of the issues, of course, but not all of them. It doesn’t address a great many of the issues that have to be dealt with on the state level. But what’s more is it doesn’t give the state any leverage to help incentivize these guys to do what’s in their best interest to do. What is does is it costs them money. So it’s all the worst elements of the tax, as far as somebody who might be anti-tax would be concerned, with none of the benefits you could get from a tax in terms of using this policy. It’s in essence a tax designed by people who hate taxes, and who don’t think they do any good, when in fact they could be a very useful tool. I’m not very optimistic about that one.
PHAWKER: So you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel?
SEAMUS McGRAW: I think this administration tends to see itself as a friend of the industry. I’m not sure the industry necessarily sees this administration the same way. Quite frankly, I’m not sure they’re on the same page. I think the industry wants what the industry wants; they’re motivated by profit. If you start with the idea that they require regulation and that regulation needs to go beyond simply, “Don’t make a mess,” but, “What are we doing with this stuff in the long run?” I haven’t seen any indication from this administration that they have a commitment to doing that. The sad thing is that it’s really in both the interest of the people of the state of PA and the industry. Does that make sense?
PHAWKER: In your book, you explain how the people of central and western Pennsylvania have a general mistrust of big government and big business, but some people like the widow Rosemarie Greenwood pretty much had no choice when the opportunity arose but to lease their land to the drillers. The late Ken Ely, a practitioner of environmental conservation, seemed to flip-flop on the issue. He had a special, deep relationship with his land and yet ended up leasing it anyway. Are the people who benefit financially from the fracking going to regret their decision to sign the lease?
SEAMUS McGRAW: That really is the ethos of the people who grew up on the land. If you don’t live in the country, it’s a hard thing to understand. If you don’t remember what it was like when the milk truck came down here every morning at the crack of dawn, if you don’t remember driving behind a manure spreader every time you stepped out onto the road, if you don’t remember when there were thirty tractors running along a two-mile stretch putting in hay all through June and August, if you don’t remember all of that, if that was all gone before you got here, and the woods were starting to reclaim these fields, you’d think you were in some bucolic paradise that’s frozen in time. It’s not frozen in time. This place has been evolving for the past 250 years. It’s different now then it was five years ago. It was different five years ago than it was fifty years before that, and fifty years before that. You can’t take a snapshot and say, “This is the way it is, and this is the way it’s always going to remain.” I will tell you, however, that the lifestyle I talk about in the book—the daily farming lifestyle, going down to Keats’ on a Sunday afternoons on our horses and our mini-bikes and al that—that was dying along with the farms. What was going to happen to those farms and had happened to many of them, was that they’d be cut into three-, four-, five-, and ten-acre tracts, and paved over 20% of it and houses would be built on them. And people would move up there with their SUVs from the city and not realize the environmental impact that they were having. It’s very important that this always be viewed in context. That context is, you can’t take a snapshot and say, “I’m going to preserve it this way, forever.” Not in a place that’s been a farm. You can go to Yosemite, even to some places in PA, and find some places—not many—that really are untouched and wild. But most of them are places that have scabbed over. Sometimes it’s beautiful, ritual scarification, and sometimes it’s pretty ugly.
PHAWKER: What about the damage that has occurred as a result of the coal mining? Is there any chance of that being resolved?
SEAMUS McGRAW: Look, little by little, you’re starting to see efforts to frankly prettify it… Where exactly are you, Alex?
PHAWKER: South Philadelphia.
SEAMUS McGRAW: If you were to go up 309 and take it all the way up through Wilkes-Berre, you’d pass some areas where they’re still actively coal-mining. It’s terrible. Coal killed me grandfather 110 years ago. It’s still killing people, today. There is, in my mind, no more toxic substance we could be using than coal. If you drive up as far as Hazleton and maybe a little further, you’ll still see some areas where you’ve got significant problems with acid, mine water…it still smells like sulfur when it rains. But that said, if you go a little further north, you’ll see efforts to reclaim it—to prettify it. Right underneath, you’ll see grass growing over what used to be the column dumps, and you’ll see some of them flattened off, and playing fields on top of it. The reality is the impact they’ve had on the land is tremendously significant. A lot of those poisons remain in the ground and very near to the surface. We still have a significant problem with acid mine drainage and problems with other chemicals leaking out as a result of that. We still have a problem with mine subsidence, and we will, going forward, for as long as anyone can see. One of the ironies of this is since they’ve started recycling the fracking fluid in the wells, one of the things they’ve been using on an experimental basis—and this is becoming more widespread—is acid mine drainage (that’s the water seeping up out of these abandoned mines), which is certainly not going to solve the problem, but it does take one halting first step to reducing it somewhat. That only happened—this whole move toward recycling—because there was so much opposition. People got loud and got active. But there’s a more important residual byproduct of coal-mining in the state: it’s that it’s going to take generations, if not forever, to be minimized, and that’s the real horrible scar it’s left on the psyche of the people of Pennsylvania. The CEO of Range Resources—the first company to spike the Marcellus—said, when I asked him what his biggest challenge in Pennsylvania, he said, “Convincing people that we weren’t coal.”
PHAWKER: Right, you point that out in your book.
SEAMUS McGRAW: I think what’s happened in Dimock, for example, —where they had the methane migration problems, and that spill—is that has made it that much more difficult to convince people, because of the way the industry behaved in that situation…the way ONE company behaved. Many in the industry were every bit as horrified [as the people on the ground] by the behavior of this company, which basically took a very legalese approach to this. I think others in the industry were also shocked by the way this was handled, which was in this very officious, legalese way, which just exacerbated the problem. And I think one of the other things that is a real issue here, and something that is really incumbent upon this new administration, is that part of that horrible legacy of coal, is the legacy of having a government in this state that has, historically, in the days of “King Coal,” looked the other way, and in some cases, was even actively abetting the coal industry and some of its worst abuses. I’m not suggesting that’s what’s happening, here now, but that perception lingers, and I think it’s incumbent upon this administration in particular because it has tried so hard to appear as if it were a friend of this new [natural gas] industry. I think it’s especially important for this new administration to recognize that there is always the suspicion [that they’re being dishonest], and anything they do is going to be viewed that way. If anything, this administration has to be more rigorous—has to be purer than Caesar’s wife, quite frankly—when it comes to dealing with this industry. Interestingly enough, you will find people in the industry who will tell you the same thing. It doesn’t do them any good—doesn’t help them at all—to have a public perception that the governor is somehow beholden to them.
PHAWKER: But you do have faith in the current administration?
SEAMUS McGRAW: As I said—and I’ve got to be fair on this—at least in terms of the operations of the DEP, I have not seen any slackening in the resolve. I think the policies and practices and the attitude of vigilance that were the hallmarks under Hanger, have certainly continued among the rank and file of the DEP.
SEAMUS McGRAW: I think they have. I can’t speak to the administration, but I can speak to the rank and file, and I will say that, from what I’ve seen—and I admit it’s anecdotal—the mission remains the same.
PHAWKER: Can you give me an example?
SEAMUS McGRAW: Back in September, I think, they hadn’t started drilling our first well. We have two. They’re fracking the second as we speak. They had built the pad. In building the pad, they had to do some blasting. When they had finished the blasting, our neighbor across the road started to detect methane in his water. I have to give Chesapeake credit for this one. Before the DEP told them to, Chesapeake shut down the operation for a month to try to determine what had happened. The DEP was very rigorous and very aggressive in trying to determine what happened. The operating theory is that in blasting, they had shaken loose one of the higher deposits of methane, and because of the way this guy’s well was set up (it was cased only to about twenty feet deep), they may have jarred that loose. Chesapeake and the DEP were remarkably responsive. They responded very quickly and, by and large, and certainly in the case of the DEP, very responsibly. This was when Hanger was still at the helm.
PHAWKER: And after Hanger’s departure?
SEAMUS McGRAW: On Monday, my mother called me and said she was seeing some cloudiness in her water. The drilling trucks had been coming up for about two days at that point. I called Chesapeake and the DEP. Both of them were up there immediately. Both of them were conducting water tests and ambient tests for methane. Both of the results remain outstanding, but in the meantime we determined what happened. What happened was my mother had somebody up at the place helping her, who left the water tap on and drained all the water from the holding tank for the [water] well. This had nothing to do with the drilling, because they hadn’t started the second fracking job yet. They hadn’t even started perforating the pipe. But again, now, under a different administration, you see the same kind of response. I think the reason is largely because of what happened in Dimock a couple of years ago. The outcry over that was so strong, and the circumstances surrounding it were so egregious, that it taught everybody a lesson. But, you know what, those lessons can be easily forgotten. They have to be reinforced constantly. Again, it comes down to character. I think [fracking the shale] is a very, very dangerous thing to do. If we had other options, I’d come down differently on this, but we don’t have any other options right now. There is a certain amount of risk we have to take, but when you take that risk, you also take the responsibility. That’s something that Americans have a very hard time with these days. We’ve become a people that don’t accept responsibility very well. That’s what this book is about. It’s about people accepting responsibility. Not everybody will, but those people [in central, rural, PA] will. The ones who are often marginalized and caricaturized. It’s the God, Guts and Guns, and Joe the Plumber types, who are dismissed as cartoons, who are showing the backbone. They’re the ones who are showing the courage and wisdom.
PHAWKER: What are these people doing, specifically, besides the late Ken Ely, who leased his land to the frackers but constantly kept a critical eye on the drillers?
SEAMUS McGRAW: They’re maintaining constant pressure on elected officials, on anybody who has a profile—obviously Ken’s not doing this right now—and on the industry. It’s one thing when somebody shows up and screams, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” It’s something else when you realize that it’s not going to stop. So what you need to do is control it, or at least guide it. You have to be able to talk with legislators, talk with people in the administration, talk with regulators, even with people inside the industry. You have to make [you’re concern] known to them that you’re carrying a carrot and a stick. The carrot is what they want. The stick is what you’re going to use in terms of public opinion. And they’re doing it. Some of these guys—not all by any stretch of the imagination—are slowly starting to realize what is in their best interest. The problem is that it’s very difficult for those voices to be heard over the static from the extremists on either side. That’s unfortunate because those are the voices that we need to have heard.
SEAMUS McGRAW: [unintelligible background noise] That’s Liam [my son], the one who drove the [first] stake in [on our property].
PHAWKER: How old is he now?
SEAMUS McGRAW: He’s 6. Going into the first grade.
PHAWKER: What do you know about this protest coming up on September 7-8?
SEAMUS McGRAW: Not a great deal. You’re familiar with the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), right, the industry group that Tom Ridge started? They’re staging a conference at that time: Chesapeake, Range, Governor Corbett will be there. [reading from the rally’s website] “We will show our political strength on September 7th and 8th with a huge rally in Philadelphia against dirty drilling demanding swift action to stop this public health and environmental disaster”—of course, they don’t have any alternative solutions to offer. So many of these [protesters] really don’t. It’s going to be really interesting. They’re talking about drum circles and a concert near the river. I think it’s going to be fairly significant.
PHAWKER: And you will be nearby, doing a signing.
SEAMUS McGRAW: I’m trying to do what I’m trying to do, which is to basically position myself, both figuratively and literally right in the middle of them, at Headhouse Books. I’m sure there will be some interesting exchanges.