Methane flaring

Fractured: the shale play, documents the altered landscape and human consequences of unconventional gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania, USA.

In this time of climate crisis, rather than concentrate on sustainable solutions, energy companies are using the decline in peak oil as incentive to exploit new sources of fossil fuels in places and in ways previously unimaginable.  From Ohio to Australia the globe is now mapped according to shale rock deposits and the treasure of natural gas that lies within.

Through an unconventional process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, companies drill down then explode the shale using millions of liters of water laced with toxic chemicals and sand to release the gas to power our world.

Serious environmental hazards have been associated with this type of unconventional gas extraction: Water contamination, livestock death, human health impacts, increased air pollution and VOC emissions from associated infrastructure.  Unusual earthquake activity has been reported near drilling and waste injection sites. Methane flared off and released as fugitive emissions is 23 more times potent a greenhouse gas then carbon dioxide burned from coal and oil. Used frack water becomes toxic and in some cases, radioactive waste. Fracking is water dependent requiring 20 millions liters for just one well.   With hundreds of thousands of wells planned worldwide, this form of energy extraction appears anything but sustainable yet has been presented as a bridge fuel solution.

In the USA, unconventional gas drilling is occurring in poor rural areas that are in deep economic distress.  A land man knocking on the door holding a gas lease promising an easy path to lucrative reward is an irresistible opportunity.  The result is an all out gas rush presenting two competing visions:  a vision of environmental preservation and a vision of short term economic gain through extraction.

Where these two visions collide is where this work is based.

Industrial activity is visually dramatic.   Yet the activity is fraught with toxic impacts, presenting a visual paradox.  Acknowledging this paradox, I focus on the strange beckoning and discomforting allure felt when landscapes shift from natural to industrial. Yellow rays, which seem like sunshine, are methane flares; pitch-dark dirt roads unfold into bursts of poisoned light.  In this unsettling environment, I include portraits of individuals who are psychically and physically trapped amid this compromised landscape.

[Nina Berman © – Everydayclimatechange, Washington PostFractured: the shale play,]


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