Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction
In Amity and Prosperity, the prizewinning poet and journalist Eliza Griswold tells the story of the energy boom’s impact on a small town at the edge of Appalachia and one woman’s transformation from a struggling single parent to an unlikely activist.
Stacey Haney is a local nurse working hard to raise two kids and keep up her small farm when the fracking boom comes to her hometown of Amity, Pennsylvania. Intrigued by reports of lucrative natural gas leases in her neighbors’ mailboxes, she strikes a deal with a Texas-based energy company. Soon trucks begin rumbling past her small farm, a fenced-off drill site rises on an adjacent hilltop, and domestic animals and pets start to die. When mysterious sicknesses begin to afflict her children, she appeals to the company for help. Its representatives insist that nothing is wrong.
Alarmed by her children’s illnesses, Haney joins with neighbors and a committed husband-and-wife legal team to investigate what’s really in the water and air. Against local opposition, Haney and her allies doggedly pursue their case in court and begin to expose the damage that’s being done to the land her family has lived on for centuries. Soon a community that has long been suspicious of outsiders faces wrenching new questions about who is responsible for their fate, and for redressing it: The faceless corporations that are poisoning the land? The environmentalists who fail to see their economic distress? A federal government that is mandated to protect but fails on the job? Drawing on seven years of immersive reporting, Griswold reveals what happens when an imperiled town faces a crisis of values, and a family wagers everything on an improbable quest for justice.
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Most years at the Washington County Fair, Stacey Haney set up an animal salon outside her blue and white Coachman trailer. She and her younger sister, Shelly, would plug a blow-dryer into a generator and style their children's goats in preparation for the 4-H competition. This year, the salon seemed too much effort, so Stacey readied the animals at home. She'd spent the past two days up to her armpits in a blue kiddie pool of freezing water and Mane 'n Tail soap washing, clipping, and brushing two goats, two pigs, and four rabbits. Then, that August morning, she'd hauled them ten miles to the fairgrounds.
After registering the rabbits, she proceeded to Cowley's lemonade stand with her eleven-year-old daughter, Paige. Thirty miles southwest of Pittsburgh, the Washington County Fairground was composed of two worlds. The lower realm contained the Tilt-A-Whirl operated by strangers, roustabouts who arrived from elsewhere. (Stacey's son, Harley, who'd just turned fourteen, called it Carnyland.) The upper belonged to 4-H and agriculture — "ag" — types, many of whom, including Stacey's family, considered themselves Hoopies, an insider's name for the hill jacks or hillbillies who live in the borderlands of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia where Appalachia begins.
These two worlds met midway up the ridge at Cowley's, where Stacey and Paige were waiting for lemonade when they spied two familiar figures trundling downhill from the horse barn. The square woman with frosted hair and the spare man with a snowy mane and a limp were Beth and John Voyles. They lived next door at Justa Breeze, a fifteen-acre farm where they trained horses and bred high-end dogs. The two families shared a fence and a love of animals. Beth treated her boxers like children. She cooked them angel hair pasta, zucchini, and meatball sandwiches, and dressed them in tiny leather jackets, flight goggles, and scarves for professional photographs. She framed the photos and hung them around the ranch house where she'd lived with John for the past twenty-eight years.
Say what one might about the Voyles, over the past year and a half, they'd proven excellent neighbors. While Stacey, forty, juggled full-time shifts as a nurse in the recovery unit of Washington Hospital and finalized her divorce from Larry Haney, the Voyles kept a quiet eye on her place. Their daughter, Ashley, often brought her new boxer puppy, Cummins, down to distract Harley when he was sick at home. At twenty-two, Ashley still lived at home and raced horses professionally. She'd also been teaching Paige to ride since Paige was two.
As Beth and John approached, Stacey could see that mascara was running down Beth's ruddy face. Stacey guessed it was the muggy heat; the air at the fair was redolent with popcorn and musk, which mingled with the scent of baby shampoo from the Mane 'n Tail lingering on Stacey's arms. A rash blazed on Stacey's left arm, where it had been erupting on and off for months. Although she was a nurse, she couldn't determine its cause. She studied the welts, and when she looked up, Beth was in front of her, her face smeared with tears.
Cummins is dead, Beth said. Poisoned.
Stacey's head swam. In her mind, she scanned the farmhouses and trailers that wended their way from the top of the valley where she and Beth lived down McAdams Road to the base of the hollow called the Bottoms. She knew nearly everyone. Many families were bound by generations of helping one another farm and, more recently, survive the economic collapse of the past several decades.
No one would poison a puppy, she told Beth gently. Beth thought otherwise. The vet had told her that Cummins's insides had frozen up, she said, crystallized, as if he'd drunk antifreeze. The vet couldn't rule out cancer, either, but Beth suspected foul play. She also thought she knew where the poison had come from: she'd seen the dog drinking from a puddle of water left on the roadside after a truck came through to spray down dust earlier that summer. Wondering what the liquid was, she'd tried to follow with a glass Mason jar, but the driver stopped. Screeching his air brake on the steep dirt hill, he yelled at her to back away.
Later, Beth and Stacey would mark this conversation about Cummins's death as the beginning of solving a mystery. But at the time, Stacey was sweaty and distracted. Paige stood by, crunching the sugar at the bottom of her cup. Stacey hugged Beth and watched her continue down the hill with John toward the field of neon. She wanted to get back to the trailer to check on Harley. She dreaded telling him the news.
Harley loved Cummins, and he was so sick. Over the past year and a half, his stomach had churned with an undiagnosed illness. He'd missed most of seventh grade sitting at home in a recliner watching his dog, Hunter, play with Cummins on the living room floor. Harley had gone from being a shy and handsome basketball player who shambled easily through life to a listless stick figure. At six foot one, he was 127 pounds. A few days earlier, when Harley weighed his goat, Boots, for competition at the fair, she'd weighed nearly the same as her master.
Stacey hoped that this year's 4-H competition would lift his spirits. She and Harley had ambitions for Boots. Instead of being skittish, as most goats are, Boots was friendly. Harley'd spent every day with her since he was home, which may have been why the brown and white Boer goat enjoyed people. When Harley went up to the Haneys' ramshackle barn to feed her, Boots slung her hooves over the wooden pen to lick his face.
With Boots, Harley had a chance at winning a large prize, maybe Grand Champion Showmanship, Stacey thought. She loved the fair and spent most of the year preparing for it, phoning in to goat auctions through the winter and trying to make sure she got her kids the best goats and pigs she could for $150 to $200, which wasn't a lot. Other people spent $600, and she'd heard of a family that paid $5,000 for a pig they hoped would win Grand Champion.
"Even if I could spend five thousand dollars on a pig, I wouldn't," she said. It was flashy and wrong, and went against the spirit of the 212-year-old fair, which had helped to pattern their family's lives for three generations. Her father, Larry Hillberry, whom everyone called Pappy, grew up poor on a small dairy farm nearby. He'd attended but didn't show animals. "We couldn't afford to. We ate them all," he told his grandchildren. Pappy was twenty when he went to work in the local steel mill and then left for Vietnam, returning two years later with feet too riddled with warts from wet combat boots to stand at the steel mill's assembly line. Forced by the condition of his feet to take a few months away from the mill, he came courting at the fair. He played bingo, winning a set of blue-trimmed Corningware dishes for his soon-to-be bride, Linda. A year and a half later, on November 18, 1969, Stacey was born.
By the time Stacey and Shelly, a whip-smart hellion who came along two years later, were old enough to participate in 4-H, the steel mill where Pappy worked was shuttered. With Pappy out of work, the family scraped by. He took every odd job he could find, chopping wood and putting up hay, and Linda, along with a generation of Amity women, left the house to work as a housekeeper, but it still cost too much to let the girls show animals.
Stacey was thirteen when she went to work. She mucked stalls and sold ice cream at the family end of the bar in the Amity Tavern. As soon as she could drive, she got a job as a seamstress in a men's store in the Washington Mall. At seventeen, Stacey graduated from high school and left home for good on a full scholarship to beauty school. It didn't hurt that she was striking, with large blue eyes below a thicket of black lashes. At nineteen, she was married and cutting hair at Someplace Else Salon, where her elderly clients encouraged her to go back to school and join the throngs of young women entering the health care industry. This wasn't just Stacey's personal narrative; this was the story of the region. With steel gone and coal on its way out, communities were turning to "meds and eds," hospitals and universities, now the largest employers. As a nurse, Stacey, in scrubs, would have a demanding but stable place in the sterile halls of a postindustrial landscape.
With two small kids, Stacey preferred cutting hair to the midnight shifts, but steady work as a nurse allowed her to give Harley and Paige the middle-class trappings her parents couldn't afford, the fair first among them. Paige and Harley'd been showing at the fair since they could walk. At five, Harley won first place with his eggs. As the kids grew, their full involvement in country activities also marked a return to Stacey's vision of her family's history. She wanted farming to be once again a way of life rather than the expensive hobby it had become.
As the goat show began, Stacey stood by the ring's steel railing and waited for Harley's number to be called. She scanned the crowd. In front of the silver bleachers, filled with the usual shaggy-haired ag folk in Carhartt overalls and trucker hats, she spied a small group of clean-cut outsiders wearing blue polo shirts that read RANGE RESOURCES. They sat close to the ring in red plastic chairs. Stacey knew who they were: gas executives had recently arrived in the region with the shale gas boom.
In 2004, Range Resources, which was based in Fort Worth, Texas, had successfully fracked the first well in Washington County. Now, six years later, the billion-dollar company was the largest producer of natural gas in the southwestern part of the state. Forbes magazine was calling Range "the King of the Marcellus," the gas-rich shale deposit that stretched from New York State to West Virginia and contained enough natural gas to power America for a decade. Range's stock price reflected its success in the Marcellus, rising from just under seven dollars in 2004 to fifty dollars in 2010, as the natural gas boom approached its apex. With its sudden bounty and low price, natural gas was a great bet for the future. It also burned cleaner than coal, releasing less carbon into the atmosphere. And soon, Pennsylvania would be producing one-fifth of America's supply.
The Washington County Fair provided a place where companies could speak directly to farmers whose mineral rights they coveted. Range Resources began to attend in 2006, thanks to Ray Walker, who'd graduated with a degree in agricultural engineering from Texas A&M and now headed the company's new Marcellus Division. Walker was known to be a man of principle. He seemed less concerned with Range's public appearance than with simply enjoying the fair. He also bid on pigs and goats.
Most locals saw the gas company's involvement in the fair as a gesture of neighborliness. They cheered industry's return. It marked a new era in a long-depressed place, and the lease money Range and other companies paid helped people replace roofs, build fences, and hang on to their farms instead of being forced to sell to developers. Corporations were also generously filling the pockets of Washington County's kids, including Harley Haney's, buying up their animals at auction.
Stacey was skeptical. It made her uneasy to watch these corporations come in and toss money around, and she suspected that Range Resources wanted something in return for its mini water bottles and freebie seat cushions. Stacey was convinced that the animals that fetched the highest prices tended to belong to the children of large landowners whose farms were most attractive to oil and gas companies looking to sign leases. Stacey had signed her own lease with Range two years earlier, but that hadn't turned out like she'd planned.
When Harley stepped into the ring with Boots, however, Stacey's irritation vanished. In his red shirt and dark jeans, Harley led his goat on a short leash without having to tug her along like the rest of the kids did. The goat heeled as a dog does and then stood on command as Harley set her feet squarely in the sawdust. When the judge took her back leg in his hand to examine her, she stayed still. Harley smiled down at her and at the judges, not the ear-to-ear grin of the boy showman, but the self-conscious half smile of a young man proud of his animal. Together, he and Boots won Grand Champion Showmanship.
The 2010 fair marked a good year for the family. Pepsi and Phantom, two of Paige's rabbits, tied for second place. Paige also took second in the junior SPAM-cooking contest with her southwestern-themed Mexi-SPAM Mac and Cheese. Pappy won a blue ribbon for his butternuts for the second year running.
Packing up the trailer at the week's end, Stacey was relieved. The fair had gone better than she'd dared to hope. In addition to the kids' wins, there was the successful visit by her friend Chris Rush. Chris, who was six years younger, had grown up in Amity. Although they'd been dating nearly a year, she wouldn't call him her boyfriend until she was sure that he was going to stick. At the fair, he'd shown up for Harley's and Paige's events. In his reticent way, he offered support by just being there, and that pleased her. She was also so happy with Boots and the rabbits that she decided not to sell them. Although, as a Boer, Boots was raised for meat, Stacey now wanted to breed her with their neighbor's billy. Selling the babies would bring in some helpful cash.
After five nights in the camper away from home, Harley had improved in both body and spirit. Striding around the fair with ease, he was still a scarecrow, but a happy one. He clearly felt better, and Stacey hoped that she was watching his illness recede for the last time, returning him to the boy he'd been before he got sick.CHAPTER 2
WHEN THE BOOM BEGAN
Stacey had long wanted to replace the battered lean-to that housed their animals, exposing them to wind, rain, and snow. But on the six hundred dollars she made a week as a nurse, the dream barn remained a dream. When oil and gas leases began to appear in people's mailboxes in the early 2000s, she thought that this lease money might finally pay for it. No one knew what these new leases would yield, but at work at Washington Hospital, her fellow nurses told stories — rural myths really — about this or that elderly hayseed with hundreds of rocky acres who'd suddenly become a shaleionaire.
Talk of who was cashing in and how they were doing it became part of daily chatter in the recovery unit, a fourteen-bed open bay hung with pale green curtains, which Stacey and four other nurses on duty kept open unless they were emptying bedpans or changing a catheter. Patients arrived directly from the operating room, asleep or emerging from sedation's murky depths. The nurses' main job was to make sure that no one stroked out, which was rare. More often they woke up nauseous and confused. Clad in scrubs of blue bottoms and white V-necks, the nurses moved among their patients as machines monitored vitals automatically. Every fifteen minutes, the machines issued a series of bleeps measuring blood pressure.
Stacey was happiest working a shift alongside her best friend, Kelly Tush, a soft-spoken redhead. Both liked their jobs, although they complained about the long hours. A shift could last from twelve to twenty-three hours straight with no breaks. Still, even when exhausted, Stacey possessed a natural tenderness with patients, an empathy with the infirm. There was something about a vulnerable person lying in bed, often a neighbor or someone she knew, that elicited a calm in her. She was also that way with animals and small children.
The nurses kept their voices low until they were in the break room, where amid the lingering aroma of urine, bleach, and blood they ate lunch and talked about whatever was going on in their lives. Stacey often entertained her colleagues with tales of farm life, which involved the latest antics of her animals — stories of her donkey, Bob, who kept breaking down the fence between her place and the Voyles' farm next door. Bob was in love with their high-class mare, Doll, and kept trying to mount her.
Since Stacey lived farther out in the country than most, where leasing was at its peak, she was the first with the chance to sign. When the shiny SUVs of the land men who negotiated the leases appeared on the back roads of Amity, Stacey plotted a course of action. In 2004, as the buzz of Range's groundbreaking success with fracking in Washington County trickled down to its residents, few locals understood what fracking was, or what these leases entailed. On signing, people could earn a bonus from five dollars to seven thousand dollars an acre; there were few rules governing such deals, and Stacey, with eight acres, was hoping for the going price of a thousand dollars each, nearly the nine-thousand-dollar price tag of the barn she wanted to build.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Amity and Prosperity"
Copyright © 2018 Eliza Griswold.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Note 3
Part I Hoopies
1 Fair 2010 11
2 When The Boom Began 18
3 The Mess Next Door 29
4 Arsenip 37
5 Airborne 46
6 Hoopies 55
7 "One Head & One Heart, & Live in True Friendship & Amity as One People" 62
8 Doubters 68
9 Hang 'Em High 78
10 Blood and Urine 85
11 Airport 97
Part II Burden of Proof
12 "Mr. and Mrs. Atticus Pinch" 105
13 Mutual Distrust 123
14 Buzz 131
15 Missing Pages 136
16 Rainbow Water 142
17 "Dear Mr. President" 148
18 Insurgents 155
19 Burden of Proof 159
20 Policing the State 165
21 What Money Does 174
22 Ruin Is The Destination Toward Which All Men Rush 193
23 Remote People 200
24 Ignorant Motherfuckers 208
25 A Special Agent 219
26 Full Metal Jacket 225
Part III The Right to Clean Air and Pure Water
27 The Right to Clean Air and Pure Water 235
28 Dreams 243
29 Closing Down The Ponds 248
30 Chasing Ghosts 259
31 "The Junkyard Plaintiff" 266
32 Diva 270
33 Fair 2016 278
Epilogue: White Hats 289
A Note On Sources 307
Reading Group Guide
1. Washington County was particularly vulnerable to the fracking industry because of poverty. What is at the heart of that poverty? Why isn’t it possible for the area to provide a good livelihood in America anymore?
2. In chapter 2, “When the Boom Began,” Stacey signs a contract with Range Resources granting her the lowest possible royalty rate allowed by law (12.5%), minus a variety of Range expenses. If you had been in her situation, would you have signed the contract?
3. How are Harley’s physical health and emotional health intertwined? What accounts for the differences between the way he and his sister, Paige, experience their symptoms?
4. Chapter 19, “Policing the State,” describes the history of ACT 13, the Pennsylvania law that quashed local governments’ ability to regulate oil and gas operators. The law also required physicians to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to learn which chemicals had sickened their patients. As you read about the ensuing legal battle, culminating in key provisions of ACT 13 being declared unconstitutional, where did you place the blame for Stacey’s situation? Are voters the solution or the problem?
5. How does Pappy’s family history affect Stacey? What does the history of the region (particularly William Penn’s “holy experiment” and the eventual brutality between Native Americans and Scots Irish immigrants) teach us about the current power struggles between industry, government, and rebels?
6. Hang ‘em High meetings were attended by an odd combination of Pennsylvanians who were united in the fight against Range Resources but disagreed about how and why. How did Stacey cope with the political contradictions in her community? Why would a conservationist reject environmentalists? Why aren’t scientists more politically empowered?
7. Access to clean water has always been a sign of freedom to Stacey, and her turn to water buffalos represented defeat. Is access to clean water a human right, or is clean water better understood as a commodity that might be bought?
8. The healthcare industry provided Stacey with a middle-class wage and is one of the few steady employers in her region. Yet she struggled to pay for the thousands of dollars in medical tests required for herself and her family. What does that say about the economics of illness in America?
9. Discuss the book’s title. What would it take to bring amity and prosperity to Washington County?
10. Stacey hoped for a settlement, but Harley was opposed to it. Would you have accepted a settlement?
11. What accounts for the tenacity of lawyers like the Smiths (who were willing to pursue cases against Range for years on a shoestring budget) and plaintiffs like Stacey? What keeps them from being easily intimidated or succumbing to despair?
12. Ron Yeager obtained a pre-drill test, but Buzz, Stacey, and the Voyleses didn’t. If you were on a jury, what proof would you need of his water in order to be convinced about the cause of the contamination? If the liner of a drill cuttings pit or a waste pond is shown to be leaking, should that be sufficient evidence that the pit or pond is the source of toxins?
13. As you read about the suffering of Stacey’s animals (including the offspring of Boots and Diva), along with the tragic contamination of springs that flow from the Ten Mile Creek Watershed, how did the book shape your view of the natural world? How much responsibility do we have to protect the planet and its creatures, beyond what’s necessary for our own survival?
14. What did you discover about the way the energy industry weighs risk versus rewards? What would your life look like if humans stopped extracting minerals from the earth?