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Book review: "The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters"

By: KEVIN BEGOS The Associated Press
November 17, 2013
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photo - This book cover image released by Portfolio/Penguin shows "The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters," by Gregory Zuckerman. (AP Photo/Portfolio/Penguin)
This book cover image released by Portfolio/Penguin shows "The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters," by Gregory Zuckerman. (AP Photo/Portfolio/Penguin) 

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.

"The Frackers" is 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 big means billions of dollars.

Both supporters and opponents of the drilling boom will find important reporting that illuminates the current debate. It's worth knowing that George Mitchell, who did more than anyone to unlock the potential of shale rock fracking, lost a $200 million lawsuit in the early 1990s to Texas landowners who claimed his drilling fouled their water (the judgment was thrown out on appeal). 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 shale boom.

Lovers of business and capitalism will appreciate "The Frackers," while those looking for an in-depth discussion of the environmental impacts will be disappointed. But "The Frackers" doesn't claim to be the whole story. Zuckerman has done valuable and timely reporting on the men and independent companies that created the shale boom.

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