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 SnagFilms.com).
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 SnagFilms.com 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

Changing Planet