Natural Gas has been hailed as a clean, plentiful source of fuel, an easy alternative to depleting oil reserves and polluting coal. Advances in drilling technology have opened areas of natural gas deposits previously off limits. Now energy companies can drill horizontally, and explode rock to release gas, through a method called hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking.
In the USA, where the technique was first invented, a frenzied gas rush is taking shape from North Dakota to New York, transforming pristine landscapes into residential gaslands.
The lure of quick fortunes has proven irresistible to aging farmers tired of working their land, and local governments looking to expand jobs and tax revenue.
Millions of dollars in industry lobbying money has helped loosen regulations, downplay industry accidents, and buy favor with politicians and institutions. Small villages are turning into company towns complete with the social pressures inherent in boom/bust cycles. Residents opposed to drilling, fearful of the health consequences and destruction of the landscape, feel helpless and threatened. A strong, grass roots, environmental movement is burgeoning.
Some scientists, once in favor of the practice, are switching sides after recalculating the long term impacts. Gas may be cleaner then coal, but the way it is obtained – it takes a 1000 trucks and millions of gallons of water laced with cancer causing chemicals to frack one well- makes it a climate killer.In Arkansas and elsewhere, fracking has been tied to increased earthquake activity.
Nina Berman has been photographing residents impacted by fracking and the landscape in Pennsylvania, one of the most active and contentious areas in the ongoing gas shale exploration.
“A paradox of industrial activity, especially drilling, is that while the effects are polluting and potentially toxic, the spectacle itself is both dramatic and unsettling. For landowners, the idea that they could be sitting atop fortunes is irresistible and reinforces an American winner take all jackpot culture. For others, the intrusion of heavy industry into the natural landscape is a violent and reckless invasion, threatening health, well being and personal liberty.”
Fracking technology is being exported around the world with major energy companies seeking leases across Europe, the UK, Africa and Australia. The experience in Pennsylvania serves as an instructive model.