Amity and Prosperity Summary

Eliza Griswold

Amity and Prosperity

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Amity and Prosperity Summary

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Amity and Prosperity is a non-fiction book published in 2018 by the American author and journalist Eliza Griswold. Subtitled One Family and the Fracturing of America, the book tells the story of how the Pennsylvania farming community of Amity has coped with the costs and benefits of the fracking boom that’s currently transforming much of the rural United States. It focuses largely on Stacey Haney, a single mom who fought a years-long legal battle against the natural gas company Range Resources, alleging that the firm’s fracking wells poisoned her drinking water and made her son sick.

Stacey Haney is a nurse and single mother to two children, son Harley and daughter Paige. Haney’s family is emblematic of so many others in the community of Amity. For much of Stacey’s young life, her parents were comfortably middle-class, owing to her father’s job at a steel mill. The paychecks from the father’s job were enough that Stacey’s mother, like so many other matriarchs of the boomer generation, was able to be a homemaker. Unfortunately, Stacey’s father was laid off at the steel mill as part of a larger region-wide downturn in manufacturing jobs. Nevertheless, Stacey clung to her middle-class yet rural roots, working hard to provide for her own children while also aiming to teach them about the beauty of the land on which they lived. The family raises livestock, less as a profit-making endeavor but more as a way for her to connect with her lineage’s agrarian roots. Stacey also teaches her children to hunt.

As a nurse, Stacey is able to carve out a modest yet comfortable existence for her family. Her life is turned upside down, however, after she discovers that a huge energy company called Range Resources wants to lease her land for a natural gas well. She is only one of many community members approached by the company which is eager to use a relatively new gas drilling technique known as Hydraulic Fractured Gas Drilling, or “fracking,” in order to extract natural gas from the massive Marcellus Shale Formation which covers much of Pennsylvania and New York and sits below the Haney’s homestead.

Her decision to sign this lease is depicted without judgment. The author writes that the amount of money offered to residents in exchange for leasing their land to gas drillers can be transformative, particularly for families less educated than Stacey’s who have watched as more and more blue collar jobs leave the area. Moreover, the author writes about how gas drillers are able to drill horizontally to extract natural gas from properties even when their owners refuse to play ball, threatening to infect their water supply with the hazardous chemicals used in the fracking process.

Before long, Stacey suspects that her own water has been infected by Range Resources’ drilling. Fracking works by injecting water into the ground at high speeds deep below the Earth in order to break up the shale formations and release natural gas. In order to make the water flow faster and with more impact, the drillers use a variety of toxic chemicals which can include benzene and formaldehyde. Range Resources, along with the broader natural gas industry, claims that when done properly, fracking theoretically shouldn’t poison communities’ water supplies because the shale formations exist below and separate from a town’s groundwater. But many environmentalists and lawyers have observed that negligent companies may ignore leaks or improperly dispose of wastewater in ways that absolutely can and do result in hazardous chemicals appearing in the drinking water of homes in communities like Amity.

Stacey’s suspicions are aroused after her son, Harley, becomes very sick with a mysterious stomach disease. While doctors are unsure of what may have caused it, the ailment is painful enough that it keeps Harley out of school for the majority of his seventh grade year. After appealing to Range Resources, as well as the local Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Stacey finds little recourse but to join up with a lawsuit filed against Range by the married lawyer couple, John and Kendra Smith. Meanwhile, Stacey feels she cannot in good conscience keep her children in a house with poisoned water, and so she becomes effectively homeless, living in a camper in her parents’ driveway with Harley and Paige.

In addition to zooming in on the Haney family’s struggles, the author examines broader cultural divides that exist in Amity and which have become emblematic of broader divides across the country. This is referenced in the double entendre found in the book’s subtitle: The Fracturing of America. For example, families who were paid life-changing sums by Range Resources but never experienced any of the negative health impacts of fracking become increasingly hostile to the lawyers and environmentalists who arrive in town to aid families like the Haneys. Some of Stacey’s own extended kin even cast suspicions about her claims that fracking made her child sick.

But in the end, the Haneys–with the help of John and Kendra Smith, as well as a number of local doctors–discover that Range Resources indeed lied and manipulated data in order to hide a number of leaks and chemical spills that absolutely could have resulted in deadly chemicals finding their way into local water supplies. The lawsuit even alleges that the corruption went as high up as the state’s DEP and the governor’s office, implicating the state of Pennsylvania in gross negligence designed to help the fracking industry hide its poisonous ways.

Amity and Prosperity is a clear-eyed and even-handed look at how the fracking industry has created temporary prosperity for some while threatening to ruin the lives of others.