Over cheeseburgers at the Towne Tavern in Lewisburg, my geologist friend Morgan expressed skepticism about both the long-term environmental and economic impacts of the drilling in the Marcellus shale. She told me, “we just don’t have the data … Beyond getting the gas out, nobody knows what the hell they’re doing. We’re basing our projections off of what has happened in other shale formations,” but the Marcellus shale is a unique formation. Morgan doubts that the industry will be in the area long-term, and imagines the development will continue for only another 10-15 years—unless the price of natural gas rises steeply, in which case “there could be more development. But the opposite is true, too, and more pressing in the industry; if prices fall, development stops. Below about $4/hundred cubic feet, this drilling isn’t economic. I have to assume that we’re developing quickly because of that contingency.” Time is money.

Morgan spoke so candidly with me because she’s my younger brother’s high school friend. We’re both from the same small city in Wisconsin. Unlike people growing up in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma or—now—Pennsylvania, we had the luxury of pretending our energy came from nowhere but the wall socket. It’s a lot easier to be skeptical of the oil and gas industry when you have no personal stake in it, no land to lease to gas drillers, no family members building pipelines or hauling wastewater to put food on the table. It’s a lot easier to be critical when you’re not, like Morgan was a few months ago, an unemployed geology B.S. with $17 to your name and no place to live. She looked for months for a job in consulting or in government, but her unemployment ran out and she turned to the oil and gas industry. She tells me, “I think I applied to [my company] on a Tuesday and was driving to Houston by the next Thursday to start.” Time is money.

Morgan has spent the last several months living in motels and drill-site trailers in three different states, working as a “mud-logger,” recording data about the mud and rocks that emerge boiling from the mile-deep wells as they drill. After Morgan and I had dinner, I gave her a tour of Lewisburg. It’s a lot like Wellsboro: cute and expensive. Walking down Market Street, I pointed out Hufnagle Park, the Lewisburg version of “the Green,” our homemade candy shop, our electric—but still nostalgic—street lamps. She told me it felt good just to be walking outside in the daylight: seven days a week, three weeks out of the month, she drives an hour each way to work the 5 p.m.-5.am. shift.

Industry workers operate on a different schedule than most people in towns like Lewisburg or Wellsboro can imagine. Morgan’s company has arranged for her to share a room at a low-price motel with Tim (not his real name), the day-shift mud-logger; the two had never met before Morgan arrived in Williamsport last month. Because of their opposite work schedules the two alternate “bed-times” and seldom see one another.

In addition to alternating bed-times, the industry has brought many new kinds of time to the region, highlighting some of the local unspoken assumptions about how time operates. Some of the different kinds of time I identified through conducting interviews with various stakeholders in the region were: stoplight time, industry time, government time, 24/7 time, geologic time, historical time, environmental time, God’s time, agricultural time, repair time, nostalgia/tourist time and future time.

Stoplight time is simple: you never used to have to wait at either of the lights in Wellsboro or Mansfield; now, sometimes, you sit in traffic through five to six lights, waiting for lines of water tankers, gravel trucks, and dump trucks. Stoplight time is something people can feel in their bodies as they sit in their cars with the windows rolled up, fiddling with the radio, turning it up to drown the sounds of traffic so loud it’s impossible to carry out a cell phone conversation on the sidewalk. Stoplight time feels foreign to local residents, but it feels like home to tourists—who’ve come to the county to get away from things like stoplight time.

Nearly everyone I spoke with—whether they were optimistic, or skeptical, of Marcellus shale development–used the phrase “24/7” or “twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week” to describe drilling activities in the region. 24/7 time is a kind of time created by an industry motivated to access natural gas as quickly as possible; part of the particular appeal of the Marcellus shale is its proximity to energy-hungry Northeastern markets. In the Marcellus, natural gas, an effect of the passage of geologic time, can be converted to kilowatt hours at warp speed.

Two and a half years ago, before the gas development began, nobody would’ve called Tioga County a county that never sleeps. But now, all day and all night workers clear trees, build access roads, level drill pads, set up drill rigs, burn off gas wells, build compressor stations, spread gravel over eroding roads, assemble wastewater containers, truck wastewater to treatment facilities, and thread pipelines through pastures. At any time of day or night, water tankers pull into the American Truck stop, where they can fill up on diesel from the pumps and water from the Tioga River that runs behind the store. Residents on previously quiet country roads hear the beep of backing trucks, the sometimes not-so-distant sound of drilling—equivalent, on the drill pad, to the sound of a 747 taking off—and the “low annoying hum” of fracking or fracturing the shale with high-pressure jets of water to free the natural gas trapped within.

Nighttime no longer feels like nighttime. Landowner Mike Reid remarked that his neighbors’ well pad lights up the sky “like New York City.” Jimmy Guignard, a Mansfield resident and professor at Mansfield University, told me how eerie and surreal it is to bicycle over country roads at night while they burn the wells off: “imagine a 20-foot flame shooting up out of a pipe, as you’re riding by it. Imagine the shadows kind of jumping around.” Another Mansfield resident told me about her young daughter crying in the night, frightened by the lighted sky; when they burn the wells off at night“it’s like Armageddon…the whole sky is red, red.”

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