Up to Heaven and Down to Hell (Princeton UP, 2021) is a vivid and sometimes heartbreaking account of what happens when one of the most momentous decisions about the well-being of our communities and our planet–whether or not to extract shale gas and oil from the very land beneath our feet–is largely a private choice that millions of ordinary people make without the public’s consent.
The United States is the only country in the world where property rights commonly extend up to heaven and down to hell, which means that landowners have the exclusive right to lease their subsurface mineral estates to petroleum companies. Colin Jerolmack spent eight months living with rural communities outside of Williamsport as they confronted the tension between property rights and the commonwealth. In this deeply intimate book, he reveals how the decision to lease brings financial rewards but can also cause irreparable harm to neighbors, to communal resources like air and water, and even to oneself.
Up to Heaven and Down to Hell casts America’s ideas about freedom and property rights in a troubling new light, revealing how your personal choices can undermine your neighbors’ liberty, and how the exercise of individual rights can bring unintended environmental consequences for us all.
Sebastián Rojas Cabal is a Ph.D. student in the Sociology Department at Princeton University.
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