A lifelong activist, Wenonah Hauter explores how the U.S. got into the position where the oil and gas industry is able to do hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking,” in states while local residents start grass-roots efforts to stop it.
Hauter has worked as a public interest advocate for the past 35 years and is the executive director of Food and Water Watch, which is a national advocacy agency that works to protect the planet for future generations. One of its major campaigns is to ban fracking.
She released her new book, “Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment,” in June. She will be at Four Season Books in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, at 4 p.m. Saturday and in Baltimore at the Church of the Redeemer at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 to discuss her book.
Hauter founded Food and Water Watch 11 years ago. The organization has 16 offices spread across multiple states and helped ban fracking in New York state in 2011. Now, the organization is working toward similar bans in Pennsylvania and Florida, she said.
“It was time to have a book that looked at the oil and gas industry, and how we ended up where we are,” Hauter said.
“Frackopoly” explores the history, companies and movement to ban fracking. For Hauter, the scientific evidence is mounting against fracking and people are engaging in the political process. Fracking is a platform for her to get out and speak about public engagement, she said. “When people have the facts and see the effects themselves, then people do respond.”
Hauter has followed the impacts of public policy most of her life. She grew up in Fauquier County, Virginia, about 50 miles west of the District of Columbia in a segregated high school near the end of the Vietnam War.
She went on to community college due to limited family funds for her education, before transferring to James Madison University for her Bachelor of Science in sociology and then the University of Maryland for her master of science in applied anthropology.
However, she did not want to write “Frackopoly” as a string of facts for “policy wonks,” she said. Instead, the book is written as a story that traces deregulation policies that allowed the oil and gas industry to become what it is today.
At the turn of the 21st century, deregulation laid the framework for the oil and gas industry to develop the technologies that are now used in fracking, she said. Among those deregulations were gas pricing, which increased the number of natural gas pipelines, and the electric industry and wholesale energy that allowed for the consolidation of energy companies that can be seen today, she said. “We’re using a lot more energy today and natural gas has been greatly incentivized.”
Before writing the book, Hauter read a biography of Ida Tarbell, the female “muckraker,” a late 19th- and early 20th-century investigative journalist, and her time digging into Standard Oil. Hauter said she was also inspired by members of Congress and the Federal Power Commission who stood up against the oil and gas industry.
However, Hauter said she was most inspired by the 15 million people who live within a mile of a fracking operation, processing plant or compressor station. Hauter visited several of these people and interviewed many more by phone while writing “Frackopoly.”
Hauter is looking forward to using the book as a platform to engage and educate people about her perception of the oil and gas industry.
The hurdles still left to overcome are the need for a greater focus on state level politics and the consolidation of news, she said. When Hauter was a child, there were 50 different news companies but today there are six, she said. The laying off of investigative journalists is also deeply concerning, she said.
Hauter said she perceives that people are not getting the right information as their lives get busier, and that there needs to be a way to bridge the “knowledge gap,” she said.
“Everything political starts at the local level.”