Review: Book chronicles businessmen who led fracking boom

  • Posted: Sunday, November 17, 2013 12:01 a.m.

THE FRACKERS: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters. By Gregory Zuckerman. Portfolio/Penguin. 416 pages. $25.95.

Gregory Zuckerman’s book “The Frackers” tells the unexpected story of how a once-obscure method of producing oil and natural gas from shale rock led to a huge American energy boom, and to a bitter debate over whether that’s a great thing or an environmental disaster.

While subject often provokes extreme emotions, “The Frackers” takes the positive view.

It’s written as an old-fashioned American success story as the founders of small independent companies, not multinational corporations, ignore everyone, risk everything and finally hit it big. And in this case, big means billions of dollars, not millions.

“The Frackers” isn’t a work of great literature, but both supporters and opponents of the drilling boom will find important reporting that illuminates the current debate.

And while the characters in “The Frackers” are generally celebrated as self-made men, Zuckerman also mentions that the drillers benefited from U.S. Department of Energy research. A federal tax credit that aimed to promote new sources of fossil fuel energy helped, too, so while the businessmen took much of the risk, government also promoted the boom.

Many readers will be surprised to learn that the shale revolution began more than 30 years ago, not five or 10.

In the mid-1970s, the Arab oil embargo shook up the American government and energy companies, prompting frenzied efforts to find new domestic supplies of energy. It took decades of failures and billions of dollars in capital to unlock the shale reserves.

Zuckerman has done timely reporting on the men and independent companies that created the shale boom.

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