Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage, by Stephanie Hamel

Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage ($13.95, 230 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-114-9), by Stephanie C. Hamel, is a memoir about an environmental scientist who is tempted to betray her ideals by the promise of extravagant royalties.

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“In [this] fascinating exploration … Hamel is unflinching in presenting her own conflicted feelings and the difficulties that crop up from disagreeing with her husband. Much like gas companies do drilling and fracturing (‘fracking’) of shale below the earth’s surface, the contract and subsequent discussion between the Hamels taps into each person’s belief system and causes some toxic energy to be released.”

—Elizabeth Millard, ForeWord Digital Reviews

“An honest, straight-forward, thought-provoking and well-written account …. I admire the courage and thoughtfulness it took … to write this book. As she says in these pages, [Stephanie] wants to be the heroine of her own book. How could she write it if she was thinking about giving in and taking the money? But she did write it. By using diary entries and notes from phone calls, Stephanie was able to portray the push and pull she was going through both externally and internally at this time in her life. She told her story honestly and did not hold back in an effort to make herself look better in the end. That makes her a true heroine.”

—April Sullivan for Reader Views

After receiving an offer to lease the farmland of her idyllic childhood summers for natural gas exploration, Stephanie Hamel saw her hitherto strong convictions rattled by dreams of royalties and signing bonuses. With a PhD in environmental health sciences, she could not ignore the possible ill effects of gas drilling and fracturing (“fracking”) of the shale beneath the surface. Her decision was complicated further by Pennsylvania’s Law of Capture, which would allow energy companies to collect gas from her property via the neighbor’s well without paying her a dime.

Dr. Hamel’s search for answers turned into an in-depth examination of her responsibility to the earth, her spouse, her neighbors and her children. As she consulted friends, colleagues, officials, and online sources and recalled stories from childhood vacations, she faced hard truths about the inconsistencies of her beliefs. She also tested the patience of her husband, who had no qualms about signing the lease.

A poetic, heartfelt, honest yet light-hearted memoir, Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage will strike a vein for anyone who has played weekend farmer or agonized over their role as steward to the earth’s resources. How much sacrifice is required of us? What if our sacrifice means little in the general scheme of things? Dr. Hamel may not have the answers, but she poses the right questions.

“The book began as diary entries and e-mails,” says Dr. Hamel, “and as a way to learn the facts about gas drilling and untangle my feelings about the difficult ethical decision I was facing. I was offered a large sum of money that would be paid at the expense of the local environment and potentially by the health of the community, and while I initially refused to allow natural gas drilling on my land, I soon learned that my sacrifice might not protect either. As I researched the impacts and consulted other landowners, I discovered that they, too, had initially said no, but then ‘reconsidered, since all the neighbors were signing gas leases.’ It was a relief to learn that I was not alone in my dilemma.

“But also, I simply felt compelled to write this story, and quickly, too, because it could be lost in light of new information that is now becoming  available. In hindsight, with facts spreading on a lighted table, decisions are easy and blame falls on those who don’t foresee outcomes. It’s not so easy to make wise choices when one is grappling with them.”

Stephanie Hamel, PhD, grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania. After earning her BS in Chemistry from Grove City College and her MS in Chemistry from Lehigh University, she worked as an organic chemist in the pharmaceutical industry with The BOC Group and at Robert Wood Johnson Pharmaceutical Research Institute. She taught Chemistry part-time at community colleges, then returned to graduate school to study environmental health issues, earning a Joint PhD in Exposure Assessment from the UNDMJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where she also performed post-doctoral research in the Department of Plant Sciences. She now resides in northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband, Tom, and their two sons. This is her first book. You can find Dr. Hamel on the Web at www.hamel.coffeetownpress.com.

Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, and Amazon Japan. The Kindle edition retails for $5.95. Other eBook versions can be purchased on Smashwords and through most major eBook retailers. Wholesale orders can be placed through info@coffeetownpress.com and Ingram. Libraries can also purchase books through Follett Library Resources or Midwest Library Services.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

During the first years of ownership, our visits featured repairs to the little house, with Mr. Penney hobbling over to offer advice and tools. Dad soon had water running into the little house; he upgraded the electricity to accommodate a hot water tank and salvaged an old oil burner.

My brother, Mark, pried rows of nails from the huge old timbers we discovered under the old wallboards and my mother wore rubber gloves as she scrubbed the massive beams with a bleach solution. The strange porch accoutrement of multi-colored shingles was discarded, and on a sunny Saturday afternoon we repainted the floor with fresh white paint. My siblings and I began to spend our summers learning to fix things: to shingle roofs, mix cement, and spackle sheetrock.

On weekends we climbed into the loft of our own barn, and scattered the grass seed found in the corncribs for our pretend chickens. Mr. Penney showed us the wild raspberry brambles and reported a recent sighting of “an ol’ black bar.” My sister and I were pleasantly frightened at the possibility of seeing one for ourselves.

We picked mint by the spring and caught tiny pollywogs in the neighbors’ pond; mud squished between our toes as we waded in the muck. On hot afternoons, Natalie and I used the dark, damp springhouse as a playhouse. On the upland, Mark and I hacked away the scratchy brambles clinging to an ancient, dilapidated pickup truck. Decaying amid the tall weeds, its rusty doors could be wrenched open enough to allow us to climb inside. We bounced on the cracked leather seat, imagining we were steering and shifting; however, the cab was protected from the wind, allowing volatilized oils in the grease to permeate everything, and their stomach-grabbing odors caused us to try—in vain—to crank the windows open. When the smell became unbearable, we would clamor over the wooden sides to the truck bed, or run down the hill to find something new to explore.

When I lay on the lawn, the wind made funny sounds in my ears and I watched fluffy clouds separate the blue sky into different shades. I picked the prettiest blue. The sky was bigger, the land was wilder, and my imagination traveled so much farther here than at home in the suburbs.

There is probably little need, then, to state that I have a sentimental attachment to the place. Those childhood memories are really why it is mine today. There could be no other logical reason, after my father’s illness and death, to purchase the property from my mother. The land—some wooded, some hayfield and the rest scrub—was not farmed, and the buildings were, by then, run-down and nearly worthless. Our farm’s value was that it held many of the happy memories of my lifetime, and that was enough.

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