Changing Planet

Looking at Lives Affected by “Fracking”

In the Journey OnEarth film series, National Geographic Emerging Explorer Roshini Thinakaran reports about the people most directly impacted by pollution, oil spills, and toxic chemicals, and communities coping with climate change across the U.S.

A bright orange road stands out like a scar in the forested mountains of West Virginia. (Image by Zakary Wenning) 

In the latest episode of the Journey OnEarth series, Roshini takes us to Wetzel County, West Virginia where the development of “fracking” technology has created a gold-rush like boom in natural gas extraction (watch the full film on
The film explains how in West Virginia a person who owns surface rights to a piece of land does not necessarily hold mineral rights for anything below. This has led to many farmers having gas companies show up on their land to extract natural gas, with the only requirement being that the company pay the farmer some amount for damages. Locals object both to losing control of their property and to having to deal with potentially toxic waste products from the fracking process.


“Battle for Wetzel County”
NG Emerging Explorer, filmmaker Roshini Thinakaran. Photo by Mark Thiessen.

The citizens of Wetzel County (along with most of the central northeastern U.S.) live hundreds of feet above a rock type known as Marcellus Shale. This large layer represents an ancient sedimentary deposit that over time has been compressed into slate-like rock and now contains a large amount of natural gas trapped within. To release this gas, companies drill straight down then arc to run horizontally through the shale layer. From there, tiny explosions crack the shale around the drilled tube. Water, sand, and chemicals are then pumped from the surface down into this tube, creating and filling tiny cracks in the shale from which the gas then escapes and comes racing to the surface.

While technologically impressive, fracking can be disruptive to the functioning of the farms, both through the activity of drilling and of simply setting up the “pad” where the equipment will remain. Accordingly, many citizens of Wetzel County are upset at the rampant growth of the industry and are now actively trying to slow or stop natural gas exploration in the area.

Hear some of their voices, and see the land and the facilities for yourself. Watch the full film on and experience life in the Marcellus Shale boom first-hand.


Learn More
NG News Special Report: The Great Shale Gas Rush

Interactive: How Fracking Works

View the Other “Journey OnEarth” Films

  • Rich Smith

    Boy, it sounds nefarious and deadly. “Tiny explosions crack the shale around the drilled tube.” The “explosions” are created by a something that resembles a shotgun shell.

    The water has a polymer gel in it so it can carry the sand into the fractures. It is made so that it will “break” or lose it’s viscosity and leave the sand in the fractures. They pump every drop of that water back out of the hole and put it in a disposal well. Simple, not dangerous or “toxic”. Stupid.

    If you don’t want gas wells then you should have to go back to burning a wood stove. oops can’t do that it’s “toxic”.

  • Mike O’Brien

    Funny, when I was in Wetzel the “explosions” were caused by 9,000 psi of hydraulic pressure. Shotgun shell? Not toxic? How can you make that claim when the drilling companies, including Chesapeake, are not required to disclose just what those chemicals are?

    Every drop? Even Chesapeake admits that over 25% of the fracking fluid remains in situ. The fluid that is not reused or is spent is placed in holding ponds for disposal. The hillsides often slough away draining the ponds into the surrounding watershed.

    I’m not sure where you got your information or if you’re just a shill for the drillers.

  • Mr Big

    The lack of knowledge is the biggest threat to gas exploration and/or “fracking”. When done properly there is no threat to the surface or danger of contamination. Also the vested interest of those who have heavily invested in “green” energy conflicts with cheap natural gas development. “Fracking” has been carried out for over 60 years. The latest technology improvement in current “fracking” procedures is increasing the volume of water and sand pumped into the formation and reducing the amount of chemicals that are used to help carry the sand in the water. By increasing the rate the water is pumped into the formation, fewer and smaller amounts of chemicals are used. The water that returns to the surface once the well is allowed to flow can be used again with minimal treating. This water is placed in lined pits. This process reduces the total volume of water used over many wells and greatly reduces the possibility of contamination. The people performing these operations live in the same communities and don’t want to see any harm come to the surrounding environment they live in.

  • Mike

    Interest how people with an opinion can voice their thoughts, freedom of speech its called but where do these opinions orginate? Are you just repeating the mantra of a company or do you have knowledge/experience? Not sure how many people are in favor of drilling but do not suffer the effects of this action. Remember for every action there is a reaction. As a geologist I understand a little about how well the well seal works(preventing the releases of gas and fracking chemicals) and how safe drilling is to the environment. I worked in Florida in the late 80’s as a geologist on several sights drilling deep injection wells (for secondary effluent disposal) into a cavernous high Total Disolved Solids zone (boulder zone) which was below a thick clay layer. The wells were sealed but now seem to have leaked into the surficial aquifer with lots of law suits and blame. Seams the cement shrunk or the rocks driller thru cracked around the well casing or various other possible reasons. In any event the initial plan was full proof just like this plan but it has problems and the people who are left with contaminated groundwater are the citizen of Florida. I agree that a lot of the drilling technology is very safe but the oversight and adherance to the proper methods and procedures sometimes get lost in a rush to get the project completed. History seems to repeat itself with bad results, frequently when emotion instead of knowledge is utilized in life.

  • fracker

    The whole energy industry is completely out of control, completely exploiting land and leaving it to waste after milking every last penny out of it. They do not care, it’s all $$$$ to them. Green is NOT good. People need to fight back, or else we aren’t going to have anywhere safe to live anymore.

  • adil smit

    if it’s so harmless why did they ask for (and got ) exemption from the CLEAN WATER ACT and CLEAN AIR ACT in 1995?

  • Tom

    “The whole energy industry is completely out of control, completely exploiting land and leaving it to waste after milking every last penny out of it. They do not care, it’s all $$$$ to them. Green is NOT good. People need to fight back, or else we aren’t going to have anywhere safe to live anymore.”

    We have another Liberal Terrorist in the making. Sounds like James Lee, the Al Gore cultist.

    BTW, if the “whole energy industry is out of control” like you said then piss off to Afghanistan. I hear there’s a cave that was recently emptied.

  • ClaudeVZ

    If its so safe why the multi-million dollar ad campaign to tell us it is? Maybe its because of all the stories about people in the FRACKING zones that can light their water coming from their faucets, and the heavy handed way that these gas companies can run over peoples land to get to the gas.
    and the idea that you don’t own the minerals under your land is so wierd. I think I would see if the gas company owners own their underground rights and if I found out they didn’t I would use the same laws to tear up there gardens and lawns.

  • Rhianon

    If theres anything thats at question here, is that do you really own your property pr does the government? See i talked to somebody about this before, usually what happens is people never really pay much attention to their mineral rights, you can usually pay the person who you bought the land off of, for the rights to the minerals or you can share. But the Giv will take it rite out from under you, they do the same with water that you find on your land- but in better use they only use your water if the city is running low. SO tel me do you own your land or does the government, cause it seems apparent that they take that right from you, what if you dont want your land drilled on, what if you dont agree with the use of “natural gas” I wouldnt want a bunch of stifs barging onto my land claiming whats in it. You should have a right to deny them. But we dont.
    Personally i hate that we use gas and vehicles in general, yeah its a good commodity but in the long run is it?? NO. we destroy the earth searching for it and we are ripping our hair out over it.
    I think we were a lot better off using boats and trains for trade. and using horse for day-to-day transportation.
    I live out in the country and i call tell you I am so happy to not be surrounded by city filth, all the cars roads, constant noise and disruption, its disgusting! we have no real need for cars yet we feel we do because we’ve become slaves to the clock umong other things. Now aside from emergency vehicles, where do you really see any need for cars and the amount of natural gas consumption.
    Its all a bunch of crap.
    where did things go so damn wrong?

  • mattymays

    hi all the best to you all – matt-mays

  • mary

    i must reiterate?, i suggest finding out how much toilet paper they use ??? then, we will know whether dealing with aliens, robots, clones or humans..etc… Of course, to tell TRUTH,.. the real GOD angels would not be involved in fracking??? Hence, evidence of character in fallible man surfaces. Perhaps, mans desperate desire to know more than GOD.

  • Idalis lujan

    Fracking is really affecting us because just imagine, a fire happens in your kitchen or anywhere in your house and you go to your sink, get water from the sink, and splash the water on the fire and make it worse. I mean it’s supposed to help?!?!? It’s just plain wrong!

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