Jen Demchak, a watershed specialist and Mansfield University professor, might agree with Ben’s assessment of the pace of industry. In a phone conversation, she told me, “I wish people would see beyond the dollar signs to what the long term effects are going to be. And I understand if you’re a farmer living in debt, and you have this opportunity you can’t pass it by, but I just wish that more people” would consider the long-term impacts of shale drilling on their environments and communities. Jen’s vision of “long-term impacts”—her understanding of the future—is informed more by her sense of historical and environmental time, than it is by her faith in economic projections. Jen contextualizes the Marcellus within her historical and professional understandings of industry time, government time, and watershed/environmental time.

Jen grew up in a coal mining family in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. She gives credence to “horror stories” and rumors she hears about the natural gas industry’s improper disposal of toxic wastewater because, “I saw it with mining. I saw it. That’s what they did. They pumped the pits at night because they knew the [Department of Environmental Protection] only worked 8-4.” Twenty years later, she says, 5,500 miles of streams are still impacted by acid mine drainage, but DEP regulators still work 8-4, despite the fact that the booming natural gas extraction industry operates on 24/7 time. That’s why, she says, groups like the Pine Creek waterdogs are so important.

The Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group sponsors “waterdog trainings” to help average citizens become active participants in water and stream monitoring. Jim Weaver informed me:

“We’ve got a sign-up sheet for folks to actually pick a stream that they’re gonna do a routine regular monitoring on. The main parameter for water quality impacts for natural gas is total dissolved solids and the meters are really inexpensive, so we’ve been selling $20 TDS meters, people are out learning to use them and pay attention to water quality.”

The program has been very popular; there are now over 100 waterdogs in the Pine Creek watershed, and 250 statewide. Erica Tomlinson, Tioga County Conservation District Watershed Specialist, told me that many of these new waterdogs were not people with a previous background as environmental advocates: “some of [the waterdogs] are people I’ve never worked with before…people have come out of the woodwork lately” in response to the drilling in the Marcellus. One of the ways that people have responded to the overwhelming pace of industry time is by making new time commitments: they make time to attend meetings and trainings, they commit to spending a certain amount of time testing the same stream. They commit to environmental time, community time, in ways they haven’t before.

The waterdogs’ commitment offers an example of the citizen’s will to safeguard the environment and what they perceive as their quality of life; the popularity of the program suggests people feel they can’t rely on either fast-paced industry or the slow-moving government to protect their interests—a viewpoint shared by many in the region. As Covington resident and landowner Leon Kocher told me, “if you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.” Describing the independent, self-reliant character of county residents, Leon said, “people around here like their Bibles and their guns”– or, in some cases, their TDS meters. Jason Weigle, who’s conducted over a hundred interviews in the region for his PhD dissertation, told me that “nobody trusts the state” to provide clear information–let alone regulate effectively and share drilling revenue with the impacted counties. This is why both industry advocates and critics are skeptical of a severance tax: both groups feel all of the revenue will go to support “the cities that start with a P.”

Where is “The Green,” the common space, for this issue? Is a shared skepticism of the state, a shared sense of self-reliance, enough to bring people with opposing opinions about gas drilling into a conversation about the social, economic and environmental future of their communities? Where can people benefiting from the drilling—such as farmers who leased land for a bonus of $5,000 an acre—stand beside students and low-wage workers who can no longer afford to pay their rent? As Jason Weigle or Jim Weaver might point out, the problems created by social and economic inequality preexisted the natural gas boom. They’re problems that I face in Lewisburg, as a student who can barely afford to pay my rent in a cute, tourist-friendly (i.e. expensive) town. These are problems that all of our communities face, particularly during this time of economic recession. The Marcellus shale highlights this problem of inequality by altering the variables, but not changing the equation: prior to natural gas development, Jason told me, the farmers were the working poor, “and now they stand to become the landed, wealthy class.”

Developing a shared future vision of a community that takes responsibility for itself and its members is what Jason believes will allow his community to have a future—rather than simply becoming victim to a repetition of the age-old narrative of exploitative resource extraction. Jason advised:

“We need to figure out someway to develop, disseminate and discuss risk, from Marcellus shale development. Part of that risk discussion has to look at the quality of life and the social aspects of it rather than just focus on the environmental and human health aspects, which are both important but it’s not the total picture.”

How can a community stand together on a metaphorical village Green and figure out a way to share benefits and mitigate risks? What vision would these individuals have for the future of their county? Would they decide to keep Wellsboro’s gas lamps glowing to create the nostalgic sense of time enjoyed by tourists and residents? Does preserving nostalgia time mean eliminating stoplight time, or slowing or stopping industry time? By coming to an agreement about what the future should look like, Jason believes, communities can work toward that vision; working together, they can have the strength or “capacity” to shape and help set the pace for the industry’s impact in their area.

Stopping industry time is simple. All it takes is a couple of orange traffic cones and a “Road Closed” sign. Jim Weaver tells me, “the townships have the authority to close a road. They can put a sign up and the road is closed and it doesn’t make any difference if you’re Shell or Exxon Mobil or East Resources or some little muskrat sidehill gas wildcatter”—you can’t get your equipment to the drill pads. While no one I spoke to advocated blocking the gas drillers, Jim’s example and the rise of groups like the waterdogs point to the fact that local groups and individual townships do and can exercise a degree of control over the pace and direction of the Marcellus gas development. The long history of exploitative resource use does not have to be repeated if communities have—as Jason Weigle hopes they do—“the political will to take care of the things that we have control over.”

Jim’s example proves that the industry time that feels so relentless to landowners is contingent on the goodwill of communities. My friend Morgan reminded me that industry time is so frustratingly unpredictable because despite its powerful 24/7 pace, it’s actually contingent on an infinitude of factors:

“Drilling-land operates on a completely different time scale than normal life. Basically everything here time-wise relates to the technology of drilling, i.e., people work when their particular skill sets are needed. So, the company man and toolpusher are here from spud-date [the date the ground is first penetrated] to whenever the production people show up, which for a shallow hole could just be a week, but for a longer hole or a location where several holes are being drilled from one pad can be several months…The drilling world is full of horror stories of wells that never end, places where things go wrong for weeks at a time and people are stuck on site for months and months. I know one logger who was on-site for 113 days straight.”

Additionally, industry time is dependent on the variable market rate for natural gas, the week it takes to move a single drill rig from one site to the other, the varying lengths of time it takes for natural gas to flow from a fracked well, the unknown quantities of natural gas within the shale, changing government regulations, the development of drill sites in competing natural gas plays, and the availability of workers, roads, hotels, trailers, water supplies, and wastewater disposal facilities.

Like agricultural time, industry time is also dependent on the earth’s time—on geologic time. In her own job, Morgan’s experience of time—whether she is frantically busy, or simply waiting for her shift to end–depends on a combination of technology and geology. Her time depends

“on how fast they’re drilling, and the speed at which they’re drilling is controlled by many factors: what type of bit they’re using, how old the bit is, what angle they’re at, how good the driller is, what kind of mud they’re using, and last but not least, what kind of rocks they’re drilling through. ROPs (rates of penetration) can vary… when everything else is equal, and the drilling slows down and the driller can’t explain why, pretty often they ask me if we’re in a different formation.”

The speed of drilling depends not only on where the drillers are, but when they find themselves in deep, geologic time. No matter how powerful industry time can feel, it’s important to remember that it, too, is contingent on the earth’s time.

Jim told me about a breakthrough he had at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Wilds planning team. In it, he asked, “What’s your definition of panic?” and someone joked “G.A.S.” and someone else said “Marcellus.” “Why are we in such a panic?” Jim asked the group. Perhaps communities’ panicked efforts to adjust to natural gas development mimic the panic and anxiety evidenced by the industry’s frantic pace, a seemingly relentless pace which belies the industry’s dependence on a multiplicity of unpredictable factors. Considering the volatile market for natural gas, it seems fair to say that the industry works 24/7 because this 24 hours might be the last 24 hours, or at least the last 24 hours to secure the current market price. If Jason Weigle considers community decision makers’ responses to shale development “reactionary,” one could also consider the industry response to technological, economic and geologic contingencies equally reactionary.

Where can short-term time—the time-frame we use to adjust to immediate contingencies– meet long-term planning and “future time”? Where can the industry’s frantic 24/7 pace meet community time, a time that looks forward to generations of social, economic and environmental sustainability? Where is the common space, “the green” between communities and industry? How can individuals share a sense of time with the industry?

Last Tuesday, before Morgan got in her car and drove back to her motel in Williamsport, she gave me a thin, black chip of Marcellus shale she’d taken from the drill site where she works. I showed it off to my neighbors, asking them to guess how old the piece of rock was. Kyle examined the rock closely. “Oops,” he said. “Is it okay if I broke it?” The thin piece of shale had snapped in two between his fingers. It reminded me of something Morgan told me earlier that night. The only reason the Marcellus shale has become a significant natural gas play is because of the fractures within the rock. Without these pre-existing fractures, she explained, it would be impossible to generate enough pressure to fragment the rocks, to free the gas trapped inside. Beneath the Wellsboro village green, beneath communities already fractured by social and economic inequality lies the fractured shale. The question that remains is whether the further fragmentation of the shale will further fragment the communities, or whether the energy released will help communities define and move into their futures.

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