Elemental trauma: A case study of living with contaminated water near sites of Marcellus Shale gas extraction
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Environmental Health; Trauma; Water
This qualitative research study examines the experiences of individuals living with contaminated water near sites of unconventional Marcellus Shale extraction (commonly called “fracking”) in western Pennsylvania. Five individuals across three households were recruited following IRB approval. Fieldwork was completed in a small town in western Pennsylvania from July of 2013 to April of 2014. This project examines how participant’s relationship to the materiality of water undergoes a drastic transformation. Water is explored as a dynamic, elemental substance that creates the conditions for both life and disease and death for participant-households. Water becomes a re-animated character in participant lives that restructures their attention towards valuing and conserving water as it becomes finite and irreversibly contaminated. Forms of embodiment are then explored, as they are forced into highly precarious and hazardous conditions. Participant-households describe ways that boundaries between their own bodies and their eco-contexts dissolve. The location of water contamination becomes the body and the blood. The emotional impact of water contamination on the participants and their social network are described as they relate to the social and ecological violence of the fracking process, such as community conflict, social strife, and personal and collective grief. Finally, the role of technology as it mediates survivability of the participants is examined. Industrial technology, in relation to the expansion of fracking in participant-household lives, can neither be characterized as good or bad, but must be instrumentally deployed in order to attempt to reduce the ecologically catastrophic aspects of energy production. Additionally, technology will be explored in relation to the human body as it clashes with obstacles to transparent medical care due to legislation. Demand for energy to power the planet and support immense population growth is in overdrive. Energy production and consumption is the central pursuit of the current epoch. This has come with immense cost. Energy production has created the worst environmental disasters currently known on the planet. Of the various causalities of these events, elemental substances are continually damaged. The concept of elemental trauma is defined as a way of thinking catastrophic change due to large-scale industrial processes of energy production.
McCann, C. J. (2017). Elemental trauma: A case study of living with contaminated water near sites of Marcellus Shale gas extraction (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/178