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The art of Marcellus Shale

Project documents gas drilling’s impact across the state

Photo of Andy McNeil
By Andy McNeil
Staff Writer
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Photo by Nina Berman
This photo shows water from the kitchen faucet in the home of Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere in Monroeton, Bradford County. They say their water was contaminated by gas-drilling operations in 2010, and have lived since then without well water with which to drink and bathe.
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Photo by Lynn Johnson
The Susquehanna River flows through areas where the shale gas industry is active. The river is key to drilling operations as a source for clean water to frack gas wells and sometimes as a repository for treated wastewater.
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Photo by Scott Goldsmith
This Range Resources drilling rig sits in Hopewell Township. Some contend that seismic testing and fracking have caused nearby home foundations to crack.
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Photo by Brian Cohen
For much of 2012, Janet McIntyre has been at the center of a water drive, delivering donated water to her neighbors in the Woodlands. As she says, “The water drive has become my way to try to give back, try to help others lessen their burden, try to give myself... an hour or so to forget about my problems and listen to theirs, and to thank the Lord for giving me a second chance at remission.” In this photo taken May 1, Janet shakes the hand of Lee Dreyer, pastor of the White Oak Spring Presbyterian Church, which has served as the focal point for the water drive.
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Photo by Brian Cohen
This photo, taken Nov. 17, 2011, shows a Williams’ Rial gas well pad under construction in Donegal.
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Photo by Lynn Johnson
Kim McEvoy and her daughter have to walk several miles to a neighbor’s home to do their laundry. Since drilling for gas began in their area, their water is reportedly either black, smelly or simply gone.
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Photo by Martha Rial
This photo shows pipe used in natural-gas drilling and a worker at Consol Energy’s NV-31D rig in Morris Township, Washington County.
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Photo by Martha Rial
Photo of a Marcellus Shale well in the Tiadaghton State Forest in Lycoming County. The state made close to $400 million in gas-drilling leases over a four-year period, mainly in places like Tiadaghton State Forest.
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Photo by Nina Berman
Having no clean well water, Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere, of Monroeton, Bradford County, give their horses bottled water to drink in this 2011 photo. They claim their water was contaminated by nearby gas-drilling activities causing their daughter to be sick and their animals to die.
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Photo by Noah Addis
View of a natural-gas pipeline under construction in Franklin Township in May 2012.
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Photo by Scott Goldsmith
Photo of a Range Resources flare near McDonald. Drillers use a flare when they don’t have a pipeline ready during exploration or expedited drilling, or when they haven’t paid for equipment to separate gas from the large amounts of water that rise along with a well’s initial gush. Drillers often need to test an area’s resources before investing in pipelines, or don’t want to plug a well to wait for the pipeline because of the risk that water could ruin the well, says Andrew Paterson, a technical expert at the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition. The methane and volatile organic compounds released from drilling sites with flares can exacerbate global warming and ozone problems. New shale-drilling all over the country has led to a global four-year high in the amount of gas burned off as waste, according to World Bank data and news agency Reuters.
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Seeking to capture the complexity of an industry described as monstrous by some and miraculous by others, six photographers set out to document the impacts of Marcellus Shale gas drilling across Pennsylvania.


The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project tells the stories of those affected by the gas industry through an online photo archive, a 220-page book and a traveling exhibition, which opened in October at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries and closes at 2 p.m. today.


“It’s kind of hard to live in Western Pennsylvania and not be aware of Marcellus Shale,” said Brian Cohen, the London native and Pittsburgh photographer who spearheaded the project.


After being spurred by his wife to consider creating a project on Marcellus Shale, Cohen realized he would need help tackling such an expansive subject and reached out to Laura Domencic, director of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, who ultimately curated the exhibition.


The project landed funding from the Sprout Fund, the Pittsburgh Foundation and Heinz Endowments, and Cohen was joined by top-notch photographers Noah Addis, Nina Berman, Scott Goldsmith, Lynn Johnson and Martha Rial.


In the fledgling stages of the project, Cohen, who also serves at an adjunct professor at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, recalls it taking a long time for he and Addis, a Philadelphian, to find a well pad – a task made easy after becoming familiar with areas like Washington and Greene counties.


“It’s very easy to be right out in the middle of it and not see it, then turn a corner and be completely surrounded by it,” said Cohen. “It’s a very overwhelming presence, yet it can hide in board daylight.”


As for the work itself, the images vary greatly in their composition – from stark, close-up portraits of people claiming to have been wronged by drilling, including an Avella woman who suspects contaminated water caused health issues for her family, to gas workers going about their day to sweeping aerial shots of well pads seemingly plopped down in an otherwise untouched wilderness. While some photos feature fiery, flaring wells, others handle the industry’s footprint more subtly, such as one showing the crest of a hill with the horizon lit from beyond by a drilling site. Others, like a shot of a child playing along the Susquehanna River, show no drilling activity at all but bring to mind issues below the ground and in the water.


“It’s a very complex, nuanced, multifaceted story that is not black or white,” said Cohen. “If people walk away from this feeling conflicted, that would be a very good start.”


While the majority of images were captured with digital cameras, Addis shot on film and Johnson snagged a series of pictures using her smartphone.


“It wasn’t about trying to have that flashy image that will get everybody talking, but to get people thinking and having a real conversation,” said Domencic.


The collection also features photographs of the Hallowich family, which Goldsmith took prior to a gag order that followed a court-sealed settlement between the Mt. Pleasant Township residents and several gas drilling companies. Cohen described Goldsmith as a “committed humanitarian” who had built a meaningful relationship with the family that became difficult to maintain after the court proceedings.


“People who have suffered as a result of this are actually fairly easy to find,” Cohen said. “Getting through to the industry, on the other hand, has been like banging one’s head against the wall.”


As for his own relationship with the gas industry, Cohen said he has spent plenty of time reaching out, to no avail. Cohen recalled chatting with Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella while photographing him a few years ago for a story for the online magainze Pop City. Nowadays, Cohen said he would love to sit down with the often outspoken face of Range, but Pitzarella won’t talk to him.


With regard to how the exhibition represents drilling, Domencic explained that the photographers weren’t trying to push their own agendas and were committed to fact-checking their information. She said the participants were trying to be true to what they experienced. Cohen said the group’s collective experiences also led them to find commonalities and patterns despite working in different parts of the state.


“It was very helpful for me to understand that this is not a totally evil thing that is monolithically bad in all of its manifestations, because that’s clearly not a very informed view,” he said. “It’s also important to understand it’s not a completely good thing.”


More information on the project, including a photo archive, can be found at www.the-msdp.us. The exhibition will next appear in Philadelphia and will continue traveling through 2014.


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