This Is What Fracking Really Looks Like

Behold
The Photo Blog
July 19 2013 1:13 PM

This Is What Fracking Really Looks Like

Jodie Simons  demonstrates how her sink water lights on fire.  It is full of methane.   Their water was pristine before gas drilling started.  Their neighbors' water is also contaminated by the state Department of Environmental protection has not determined the source of the problem.  They have been without clean drinking or bathing water for months.  Their animals also became sick and they now give bottled water to their horses.   A methane vent rises from their property.
Jodie Simons demonstrates how her sink water, full of methane, lights on fire. Simons' household's water was pristine before gas drilling started, but now they've been without clean drinking or bathing water for months.

Nina Berman/NOOR

Photographer Nina Berman had just started focusing on climate and environmental issues when she read an article about fracking and its connection to the possible contamination of New York City’s drinking water. Berman resides in New York and knew very little about how the controversial process of drilling for natural gas via hydraulic fracturing worked and decided to head to Pennsylvania for Gov. Thomas Corbett’s inauguration in 2011.

“I knew there would be demonstrators (opposed to his support of natural gas drilling), and I wanted to learn what they were screaming about,” Berman said. After researching the issues, she then had to figure out how to document them in a visual way.

“It’s a very hard subject to photograph,” Berman explained. “You see a drill, and you don’t know what that means, and then it disappears. What does that mean? It took me a while to figure out how to approach it.”

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To do that, she spent time in part of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region, a hotbed of fracking controversy, producing a series titled “Fractured: The Shale Play.” Berman began calling activists, hoping to get a sense of the communities and knowing the people who feel they have been violated are those “interested in having their story told.”

Protesters against gas drilling and the technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) outside Pennsylvania's Department of Enviornmental Protection (DEP) office where the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission was holding a meeting.
Protesters against gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing gather outside Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, where the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission was holding a meeting.

Nina Berman/NOOR

Shale Gas drilling rig on dairy farm property
A shale gas-drilling rig on a dairy farm

Nina Berman/NOOR

Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere demonstrate how their sink water lights on fire.  It is full of methane.   Their water was pristine before gas drilling started.  Their neighbors' water is also contaminated by the state Department of Environmental protection has not determined the source of the problem.  They have been without clean drinking or bathing water for months.  Their animals also became sick and they now give bottled water to their horses.   A methane vent rises from their property.
Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere's animals have became sick, and they now give bottled water to their horses. A methane vent rises from their property.

Nina Berman/NOOR

“What struck me very personally as an outsider was how any kind of industrial activity feels like an enormous intrusion, almost like a creature from outer space; these drills at night are almost supernatural,” Berman said. “I looked for points where the industrial activity impacted these quiet rural landscapes, and I found at night was when things came alive, so I combined those pictures with more conventional documentary [style of ]subject-driven photography about people who were having serious health impacts.”

Fracking’s health impact, specifically its impact on water, is one of many controversies surrounding the process of drilling into rock in order to release gas.  While some argue it is an alternative to dependence on oil, the methods of drilling involving water, sand, and chemicals to break up the rock has also been argued as the culprit for contaminated water.

“Those of us who are used to clean water have no concept of what that feels like when your water coming from your well on your land is destroyed and you can’t do anything about it,” Berman said.

Water from the kitchen faucet of Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere home.  THey say their water was contaminated by gas drilling operations.   The DEP has taken several months and still has not made a determination.
Water from the kitchen faucet of Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere's home. They say their water was contaminated by gas-drilling operations. Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection has not determined the source of the problem.

Nina Berman/NOOR

NICK  DeREMER, 22,  Kayak tour operator, shows where methane has been bubbling in the Susquehanna River.  He attributes it to gas drilling and wants to leave his home state because of the the shale exploration
Nick Deremer, 22, a kayak tour operator, shows where methane has been bubbling in the Susquehanna River. He attributes it to gas drilling and wants to leave his home state because of the the shale exploration.

Nina Berman/NOOR

Part of the way Berman is sharing her experience is through the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project.” Started in November 2011, Berman and five other photographers documented how communities in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale region have been affected by natural gas drilling.

With a nod to the Farm Security Administration’s program assigning photographers to document communities during the Great Depression or the Documerica project during the 1970s that looked at how environmental concerns were impacting Americans, the “Marcellus Shale Documentary Project”  focused on the impact of fracking on the lives of Pennsylvanians. The exhibition is currently on view at the Center for Photography at Woodstock in New York through Aug. 18.

Berman said for now she has done as much as possible in Pennsylvania but would be interested in documenting areas around the country that have also been affected by fracking. Until then, she has been exhibiting and touring with the “Marcellus Shale Documentary Project” and feels the impact has been positive.

“That is how I like to work in many ways, to be a part of bigger things,” she said.

Dr. Stephen Cleghorn declares his farm forever frack free in a memorial tribute to his wife Lucinda Hart Gonzalez who died of breast cancer.   Environmental activists from across the region attended to honor Lucinda and participate in the release of her ashes.
Dr. Stephen Cleghorn declares his farm forever frack-free in a memorial tribute to his wife, Lucinda Hart Gonzalez, who died of breast cancer. Environmental activists from across the region attended the gathering to honor Gonzalez and participate in the release of her ashes.

Nina Berman/NOOR

Methane Flaring from gas drilling wells
Methane flaring from gas-drilling wells

Nina Berman/NOOR

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