France 24, October 13, 2020
In the battle for the White House, Pennsylvania and fracking have become all but synonymous. Yet in one of the state’s largest gas-producing counties, FRANCE 24 found residents’ relationship with the industry to be far more vexed than the national debate suggests.
Rose Friend’s family has a long history with natural gas. For decades, the family’s home in rural Washington County, Pennsylvania, got a free supply of the fuel from a local conventional well, as compensation for one of the several active gas lines running across the property.
It was a straightforward, convenient arrangement for the family, and a testament to the region’s longer-running relationship with fossil fuels. Alongside coal, which powered the area’s iconic steel mills, oil and natural gas production in southwestern Pennsylvania dates back to the late 19th century. For Friend, who grew up ploughing the land with horses, and whose nephew worked in the coal mines, the benefits of the area’s abundant energy reserves were obvious.
Then, around the mid-2000s, a new variable entered the equation. In Friend’s case, it was a company called Atlas America, which was looking to capitalise on a lucrative new industry: hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. The technology allows drillers to extract oil and gas from deep inside underground rock formations by injecting them at high pressure with water and a cocktail of chemicals.
Atlas was an early player in what would soon prove to be a fossil fuel resurgence. In 2007, when Friend first signed a contract with the company, it was one of the many companies seeking to gain a stake in the Marcellus shale, the gas-rich formation on which her home sits.