Monday, 7 March 2016

A devil's bargain: Rural environmental injustices and hydraulic fracturing on Pennsylvania's farms

Available online 19 January 2016


Rural Pennsylvania, the epicenter of the Marcellus Shale region, hosts the most prolific unconventional natural gas extraction and production activity in the US. Farmers of small and midsized operations in Marcellus counties depend increasingly on incomes from booming natural gas operations, while the industry needs their land to access energy resources. These farmers thus bridge two economic sectors—unconventional natural gas production and agriculture. Related dynamics rapidly transform the social, economic, and environmental landscapes for Pennsylvania's rural communities. We ask: What, if any, are the environmental justice implications of the unconventional natural gas industry's presence in rural agricultural spaces, particularly for farmers with small and midsized operations? Presenting findings from 42 in-depth interviews, participant observation, and archival analysis, we show how farmers benefit from natural gas leases to support their agricultural livelihoods. However, they face a devil's bargain. Farmers risk entrenchment in a long-term web of natural resource dependence, increasingly unable to determine their livelihoods or land use on their own terms. Our study demonstrates how farmers' intersectoral dependence conditions procedural inequities and greater environmental risk. We show how farmers of small and midsized operations experience rural environmental injustices as they endure corporate bullying; face procedural inequities negotiating and enforcing lease terms; and increasingly contend with environmental risks associated with unconventional natural gas production.


  • Unconventional oil and gas production
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Fracking
  • Split estate;
  • Environmental justice
  • Natural resource dependence
  • Agriculture and food justice;
  • Small and midsized farms