“Get the Frack Out”: Environmental and Economic Implications of Fracking in Bradford County, PA.
Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sG8925fizcY
“PA Royalty Rip-off”
The image I have chosen to analyze is a video from the residents of Bradford County in which they criticize Chesapeake Energy for allegedly cheating them out of royalty money. My chosen environmental site is the part of the Marcellus Shale Region that runs through Bradford County, Pennsylvania, which has six well operators, 765 violations, and 1,097 wells, between the years 2005 and 2015. This video suggests that these hardworking, middle-class, individuals affected by the practices of Chesapeake Energy feel forgotten, and even abandoned, by their elected officials. While it is not directly relevant to what I intend to focus on, this video, and what it conveys, are essential to understanding the nefariously persistent actions of these hydraulic fracturing companies, and how the community has responded to them.
After seven hundred residents attended a meeting with state and local officials discussing a bill aimed at ensuring that gas companies pay fair royalties, the county announced that it was paying fifteen thousand dollars to a public relations firm to create a video in October of 2016 detailing the stories of landowners who feel that they are being ripped off. (Ironically, those thousands of dollars came from gas royalties received by the county for leasing public lands). Michael Caputo, a former Trump advisor, ran the campaign and helped produce the video. The video was intended to criticize gas driller Chesapeake Energy, in order to push for a bill to be passed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that would ensure that the residents received their royalty payments.
In one of the scenes of the video, Lois Neuber begins sharing her personal encounter with Chesapeake Energy that took place within her house. In that shot of her sitting in the dining room of her house, one is first drawn to Neuber herself, and then immediately to the white scrapbook sitting in front of her. The color of her scrapbook starkly contrasts with the dimly lit and rather dark surroundings of the rest of the room. The dimly lit background of the room, and the pronounced emphasis on the scrapbook containing images and memories from the past, suggests a feeling of isolation and even a sense of abandonment associated with the present situation. Moreover, as the focus of the viewer moves from the scrapbook to the rest of the room, a cluttered table is visible on the side. When shifting to the right, a case of china is also visible. These two elements evoke images of one’s own home: in a sense, they reinforce that the individual residing in this house is an ordinary person.
The sense of abandonment is supplemented by the contrast apparent between the two general zones of activity. All of the residents are in the foreground as they each recount their own experiences. By contrast, the background is filled with extensive landscapes, both farmed and natural, that appear absolutely still. For example, as one hears Jim Barret discuss his story, one can discern that the farmland sweeping up and down the hills, as well as the mountains all the way in the back, remain absolutely still. This contrast between activity of the foreground and inactivity of the background engenders a feeling of loneliness, an almost ominous isolation.
This idea is also evident as Joan Smith-Reese recounts her experiences. Although she is the director for an Animal Care Sanctuary, as she speaks, there are not any animals or general activity discernible in the background.
She is detached, and, by extension, forgotten.
Furthermore, there is an additional contrast that exists in terms of size and scale. Similar to the previous point pertaining to zones of activity, the contrast between the speakers and the immense landscapes that are behind them fortify the evoked sentiments of isolation and abandonment. For example, as Wayne Felder speaks, one is immediately drawn to the size and scale of the massive, forested mountain behind him.
In comparison to the hill, Wayne appears diminutive, and would be, from an aerial perspective, altogether absent. This observation seems to contest with the notion that larger size is correlated with greater importance; however, the individuals displayed in front of these towering natural phenomena as well as the ever-expansive breadth of farmed landscape are, in a sense, insignificant and inconsequential. They are easy to overlook.
This video serves as a means of highlighting the sense of abandonment felt by everyday residents of Bradford County, and serves as a means of understanding both how hydraulic fracturing companies like Chesapeake Energy operate and how residents resist those occasionally duplicitous operations. Moreover, these ideas display how communities in the postwar era in the United States have taken it upon themselves to redefine issues of environmental inequality and frame the discussion around disparities that exist alongside class distinctions.
WORKSHEET 1: Image Analysis
Follow the steps in this worksheet to help uncover details, relationships, and, in the end, meanings embedded in an image that you might miss if you only focus on the image’s content. The formal analysis is the important first tool for interpreting images in the environmental humanities.
FOCAL POINT: Write down and describe the first site in the image where your eyes are drawn to.
I was initially drawn to the individual’s faces within the video. They were oftentimes presented centrally and vividly.
DIRECTION OF MOVEMENT WITHIN THE PICTURE FRAME: Note where your eyes are drawn to next, traveling from one place to another across the image. See if you can create a narrative from the string of visual scenes and relationships among component parts. What might the progression of visual elements mean?
From the individuals, I was drawn to their surroundings. For example, when Lois Neuber began sharing her story, there is a shot of her sitting in the dining room of her house. In that particular scene, I am drawn to the white scrapbook in front of her. From there, I can see the cluttered table on the side, which reminds me of my own house. The progression of these visual elements makes me feel that I am walking through a home really like any other.
When Jim Barret begins sharing his story, there is a scene in which he is leaning in what is presumably his own barn beside the hay. I am immediately drawn to the four dogs and the little puppy that crawl around him. From there, I look back at Jim, and, even though he is physically engaged in petting the dogs affectionately, his facial expression indicates the exact opposite, almost evoking a feeling of regret or despair. More than anything, the progression of these visual elements is conducive to eliciting an emotional response of subdued sadness.
SPATIAL RELATIONSHIPS: Look to see if there are any spatial divisions in the image that reflect different zones of activity.
When the individuals recount their experiences, there appear to be two general zones of activity. In the foreground are the individuals, who are focused on centrally. In the background, there seems to be expansive landscapes, some farmed, some natural, that seem almost lifeless by comparison. That juxtaposition of activity and inactivity almost engenders a sense of abandonment.
COLOR: Note which features share the same color. Which ones are brightest, darkest, and dimmest. Can you make any judgments about these differences, including how the elements may be understood in relation to the others?
Ironically, here the reverse trend seems to be apparent. The individuals are wearing rather dull colors that are black, gray, and brown, while the background contains vibrant natural hues of green and blue.
In the aforementioned scene with Lois Neuber, her white clothing and the color of the scrapbook are very bright in contrast with the rest of a dark and dim room. Those dreary backgrounds within the house suggest a general mood of isolation and dreariness.
SCALE/SIZE: Compare the sizes of the various visual elements. Larger size generally correlates with greater importance.
The only real size/scale contrasts that I was able to discern was between the extensive landscape in the background and the individual in the foreground. By comparison, it almost appears that the individuals seem to be alone or even forgotten about in the midst of such massive mountains, hills, and forests.
CONTRASTS: Note how some visual elements play off each other. These contrasts serve to accentuate differences and/or exaggerate the separate qualities of each. Conversely, little contrast can communicate likeness or similarity.
Evident contrasts between size/scale of foreground and background.
Contrasts between bright dim background colors of the landscapes and those that the individuals in the foreground wear.
INDIVIDUAL ACTORS & DETAILS: Write down any other details that don’t seem to fit a pattern yet seem important for understanding the image.
Jim Barret begins slightly apprehensive when recounting his own story, which is evident through his softer tone of voice and how frequently he is moving his fingers around, almost fidgeting. However, by the end, he seems to speak with more conviction as he calls on elected officials to act.
ABSENCES: Can you think of something that is conspicuously missing from the picture?
For me, the main aspect missing from all of the pictures is the evidence of hydraulic fracturing actually occurring on the land. The landscape looks almost pristine, which is not what I had initially anticipated. Moreover, as the director of the animal sanctuary speaks, there are no animals present. There is a previous shot of the horses, but there are none visible as she speaks.
VALUES & MEANINGS: List some of the values you think the image maker is expressing through these visual relationships and elements. Try to state a takeaway message or two that you can then verify with other sources.
These individuals appear to be forgotten by their elected officials in Harrisburg. They appear abandoned in a sense.
Moreover, the visual elements coalesce in reinforcing that these individuals are both hard-working and average.
WHERE TO GO NEXT: List other sources you can turn to find out more information about the image.
I can consult legislative documents that can detail whether or not the Act had been passed. I can also locate articles that discuss Chesapeake Energy’s response to the video.
Keywords: Class, Toxics, Water, Soil, Pollution, Energy