A CLOUD of dust and sand and diesel exhaust, thick as a desert windstorm, snaked up into the sky and blotted out the midsummer Pennsylvania moon. The scene was backlighted by 100 high-powered lights glaring from the top of a 70-foot-tall, hundred-yard-square acropolis of broken stone carved into our hillside.
Standing there, in what used to be my family’s pasture, I was surprised by my own feelings as I watched a small army of workers rev up the machines that would crack open the Marcellus Shale deep below my land, the same rich cache of gas that New York now seems poised to exploit.
I thought I was prepared for it. I had seen this operation before, on other people’s land. I had even been mildly impressed by the military precision of it all, by the way the roughnecks moved wordlessly among the massive water tanks arrayed around a drill pad the size of a high school football stadium, while others monitored the gargantuan pump itself, a 40-foot-long battleship of a machine that would blast a toxic cocktail of water and up to a dozen chemicals a mile and a half deep into the earth at more than 9,400 pounds of pressure per square inch to shatter the rock and release the gas trapped inside it.