Bradford County, a bucolic region in northern Pennsylvania full of woodlands, rolling hills, and pastures dotted by red barns and hay bales, with a population of just 63,000 people, has been undergoing a massive industrial transformation for the past few years, as both American and international companies have joined the rush for gas. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
From a sleepy Pennsylvania town on the banks of the Susquehanna River, Towanda, the county seat, has metamorphosed into a real boomtown, with many large trucks jamming the single main street. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
About 2,000 shale-gas wells have been drilled and permitted in the county so far, making it the most heavily drilled region in Pennsylvania and the Marcellus as a whole. This image shows the land in Bradford County currently under lease for shale gas extraction. Image by Google Earth and Pennsylvania's Department of Natural Resources.
Since 2008, when drilling for shale gas began in the county, revenues from sales tax have jumped up 61 percent, while unemployment has hovered at around six percent, lower than the national average. So far, local landowners have received $160 million in leases, which have boosted spending, as well as the county’s tax base. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
While the economic benefits for companies, larger leaseholders, and some local businesses have been significant, the gas rush threatens to undermine the venerable farming and dairy operations in the area, while creating a host of environmental and social problems. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
Another serious impact has been the fragmentation of farmland by the well pads, compressor stations, and the thousands of miles of pipelines already crisscrossing the hills or currently under construction. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
Carol French, a long-time dairy farmer, experienced the adverse consequences of shale-gas drilling first hand when her well water turned white and murky in 2011. Soon, her whole family started having skin rashes. Her 24-year-old daughter fell extremely ill with intestinal, liver and spleen problems (she quickly improved when she moved away from the farm). Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
Soon after gas drilling contaminated the water on her property, Carol French's cattle began suffering from skin rashes and breeding issues. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
In 2010, Sheila Russell left her corporate job to begin work as an organic farmer on her family’s seventh-generation property in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. That same year Chesapeake Energy drilled two shale-gas wells across the road, less a thousand feet from the farm. Immediately after, one of them started leaking methane. Today, Russell has stopped drinking the water from her private well and even refuses to water her produce with it, preferring instead a nearby spring-fed pond. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
A 2012 study by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences draws a direct correlation between the decline of cow numbers and dairy production in areas with higher drilling activity. Between 2007 and 2010, in counties with 150 or more gas wells, cow numbers have decreased by 18.7 percent on average, compared to only 1.2 percent decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells. In Bradford County the decline has been 18.8 percent for that time period. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
In 2011, three accidents related to shale gas extraction happened on Bruce Kennedy's property, including a large diesel spill. “The story is always different at the kitchen table where they come to sign you on than it is out in the field,” says Kennedy, a long-time farmer whose family roots in Pennsylvania go back 200 years. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
Bruce Kennedy showing photos he took from the spill site. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
Already a bust is on the horizon: drilling in the county has seen a substantial decline, from 408 shale-gas wells drilled in 2011 to 149 well through November of 2012, due to low gas prices. The construction of thousands of miles of pipeline continues in preparation for the new boom when prices pick up. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.
A shale gas pad in Bradford County. Without a doubt shale gas has made a major contribution to the economy of Bradford County and Pennsylvania as a whole, yet risking a sustainable industry like farming for an unsustainable one like fossil-fuel extraction may prove too expensive in the end. Image by Dimiter Kenarov. United States, 2012.

Bradford County, a bucolic region in northern Pennsylvania full of woodlands, rolling hills, and pastures dotted by red barns and hay bales, with a population of just 63,000 people, has been undergoing a massive industrial transformation for the past few years, as both American and international companies have joined the rush for shale gas. About 2,000 shale gas wells have been drilled and permitted in the county so far, making it the most heavily drilled region in Pennsylvania and the Marcellus Shale as a whole. And while the economic benefits for companies, larger leaseholders, and some local businesses have been significant, the gas rush threatens to undermine the venerable farming and dairy operations in the area, while creating a host of environmental and social problems.

This reporting was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Calkins Media, publishers of Shalereporter.com.

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Shale gas is an energy phenomenon not just in a broad swath of the United States but in places like eastern Europe, too. In both regions there is a tangled mix of hopes, hype, and concern.

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