Prove your humanity

The story of the fracking boom in Pennsylvania and nearby states runs as an almost continuous narrative in the region’s press. But covering the blow-by-blow of new drilling sites, protests, lawsuits and regulations is just one way to look at how fracking has changed the region. Back when unconventional natural gas drilling started gaining momentum, a group of photographers set out to gather a more personal perspective—by using photography to document the lives and landscapes that were being transformed by the drilling boom. The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project has collected hundreds of images since, many of which are included in a new exhibition titled “An Expanded View.” Co-curator Laura Domencic says, in many ways, not much has changed since the project first started back in 2010: Health issues and the industrial footprint that fracking imposes on rural landscapes remain familiar themes. But she says it’s also important to continue this work to gather a broad perspective on an issue that will no doubt have a lasting impact on the region. “When you document something, it helps tell that story for generations to come,” she says. “And not that this is the entire story, but this is a part of the story that wouldn’t be heard otherwise.”

For more commentary on the new exhibition, listen to our interview with Laura Domencic. And special thanks to the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project for use of the photos below.

LISTEN: Co-curator Laura Domencic talks about the new exhibition of the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project

Longtime resident Patricia Lyons looks at a line of parked rail cars outside her home in Greentree, Pennsylvania. The trains are carrying liquefied natural gas from the Rook Rail Yard, which only saw a few trains a week until the natural gas boom turned it into a busy rail hub. Photo: Martha Rial

Brooklyn, Pennsylvania resident Rebecca Roter decided to move out of her house in 2015 because of the chemical contamination of her well water. Photo: Nina Berman

A town meeting at the Wilmington Township Municipal Building draws a large crowd—including a number of residents from the Amish community. A number of gas wells, pipelines and compressor stations have been proposed for the area. Photo: Lynn Johnson

An unconventional drilling site is prepared in Butler County, Pennsylvania in the winter of 2014. Photo: Scott Goldsmith

View of the FirstEnergy R.E. Burger power plant in Shadyside, Ohio, January 31, 2016. The plant’s coal-fired boilers were taken offline in 2011 and the facility was completely closed in 2015. Dozens of coal-fired power plants have closed around the country since the fracking boom, as utilities move to meet new environmental regulations and take advantage of cheaper natural gas. The site in Shadyside is now being considered for a new ethane cracker—a petrochemical processing plant that would take ethane from the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations and convert it into the building blocks of plastic. Photo: Noah Addis

Janet Muffet stands on Jan Pierce’s property, adjacent to the Muffet farm. Formerly a mix of woods and meadows that was used for farming and riding trails, this land was cleared in 2015 in preparation for a drilling site. There has been no further activity, and none of the neighbors has been able to make contact with the gas company to learn when, if at all, they will return. The assumption is that the project was put on hold when the price of gas fell in 2016. Photo: Brian Cohen



Want to learn more? On Thursday, June 16,  Martha Rial, Scott Goldsmith, Noah Addis and Brian Cohen of the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project will be participating in a public discussion about the group’s new exhibit. The event starts at 6 p.m at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA). Admission is free for PCA members; $5 for non-members. You can find more details and RSVP here.  Also, an editor’s note: The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project and The Allegheny Front both receive financial support from the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.