The contested landscape of unconventional energy development: A report from Ohio's shale gas country

  • Willow A
  • Zak R
  • Vilaplana D
 et al. 
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Abstract

Portions of Ohio are experiencing a surge in the development of unconventional sources of natural gas and other fossil fuels using controversial hydraulic fracturing technologies. Natural gas has been celebrated as a clean-burning bridge fuel capable of leading our society beyond its dependence on fossil fuels, a key to energy independence, and a critical catalyst for regional economic recovery. But serious concerns have been raised about possible detrimental impacts on public health and safety, water and air quality, and environmental integrity. Informed by a landscape studies perspective that encourages careful consideration of how people conceive of the world around them, this paper examines how Ohioans' understandings of the environment are being transformed as a result of shale gas extraction. Based on ongoing participant–observation research and open-ended interviews with grassroots anti-fracking activists, nonprofit organization affiliates, and government agents as well as a review of publicly available corporate responsibility statements, it surveys emergent themes in citizens' perspectives—including legacy, way of life, disempowerment, vulnerability, displacement, and prosperity—in order to explore what the contested landscape of unconventional energy development can reveal about the diverse and dynamic ways in which contemporary citizens comprehend the natural environment and their relationships to it. It suggests that responses to energy development are being contoured not only by culturally constituted ways of imagining ideal human–environment interactions but also by the broader sociopolitical structures that ultimately determine whose perspectives are prioritized and which policies are implemented.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Energy
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Landscape
  • Natural gas
  • Ohio
  • Shale gas

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Authors

  • Anna J. Willow

  • Rebecca Zak

  • Danielle Vilaplana

  • David Sheeley

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